Martin Salter, MP for Reading West, has welcomed the publication of the final report by the Joint Committee on the Draft Marine Bill, of which he was a leading member, and called on the government to heed the committee’s recommendation to put a duty on the Secretary of State to establish marine conservation zones, rather than just enabling him to do so. Mr Salter was also instrumental in persuading the committee to recommend that the Environment Agency, rather than the new sea fisheries committees, be given the responsibility of managing fish stocks in estuaries.

The Joint Committee on the Draft Marine Bill was set up in May to consider the Draft Marine Bill, which was published earlier this year and proposes to create a new network of marine conservation zones for species and habitats of national importance. Improved coastal access for ramblers is also proposed alongside a new marine planning system, simpler licensing of marine developments (e.g. offshore wind farms) and improved management of marine and inland fisheries. The Committee, which comprised Lords and MPs, met regularly to scrutinise the draft Bill, held hearings and took evidence from scientists, academics, environmentalists and politicians.

The inshore fisheries part of the Bill will finally enact the bulk of the recommendations from the Warren Report’s comprehensive review of Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries legislation, which was published in March 2000.

The Committee made several recommendations to the government for the final Bill. The report:

o    Warns that in order to be effective the final Bill needs to commit the Secretary of State to taking action, rather than just enabling him to do so.
o    Presses the government to consider more thoroughly how the legislation will work with the devolved parliaments in Scotland and Wales.
o    Recommends that that science should be the primary factor in the selection of a network of Marine Conservation Zones.
o    Urges the government to commit to a timetable of development for the Marine Conservation Zones.
o    Recommends ring-fenced funding for the new Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Agencies to ensure they can carry out their work effectively.
o    Proposes that the Environment Agency to be given the role of managing the majority of estuaries.

Mr Salter said:

“I am proud of the work of the Committee, and the report that we have produced. The Marine Bill is a once in a generation opportunity for comprehensive legislation protect our fisheries and the marine environment and it is vital that we get it right. To this end, the Bill needs to commit the government to take action, rather than just enabling them to do so.”

He added:

“On the Committee I pressed for the Environment Agency to manage the majority of estuaries due to their experience in this area. It would be daft to expect the new sea fisheries committees to take responsibility for Teddington Weir on the Thames, Gloucester on the Severn and the Trent in Nottinghamshire! They simply lack the expertise or incentive to do this sort of work. I am pleased that this has now become one of the recommendations in the report; and that the much-needed new laws on fish theft will finally become a reality.”

Mr Salter is the Labour Party Vice Chair for the Environment, and is the Party’s Parliamentary Spokesman for Angling. He has long been campaigning for the introduction of a Marine Bill with the Wildlife and Countryside Link, a coalition of the UK’s major voluntary organisations concerned with the conservation and protection of wildlife, the countryside and the marine environment, which represents 8 million people in the U.K.