Fishing for the Future


Three quarters of the public would pay more for fish caught without damaging the environment, according to a new survey published today (10th September 2009) by Natural England. The survey accompanies its new report, ‘Sea fisheries: steps to sustainability’, highlighting the ways in which fishing practices should be adapted to secure more sustainable fish stocks in English waters.

The survey (by TNS) revealed overwhelming public support for encouraging fishing practices that help protect the marine environment, with the majority of respondents calling for action to address overfishing and 80 per cent saying a healthy marine environment was important to them.

Dr Helen Phillips, Chief Executive of Natural England, said: “Overfishing is one of the most significant environmental issues we face and it is clear from our research that the public are increasingly aware of the problems – and are willing to help address them.”

Fifty per cent of England’s biodiversity lives in the sea and a long history of overfishing has contributed to a marked decrease in the populations of many important species such as skate and cod. The ‘Sea fisheries: steps to sustainability’ report points to the heavy impact of discarding – the “scourge of fishing” – as a practice that now sees nearly a third of the total catch in the North Sea being thrown back into the sea, partly because of quota restrictions.

But Natural England’s report makes clear that current levels of waste and over-exploitation are by no means inevitable. The fishing industry has already made a number of innovations in fishing gear and fishing methods that can help to minimise damage to sea bed environments, and reduce by-catch and discards. A wider programme of fisheries certification is needed to ensure that the fishing industry can capture an economic premium for fish caught through these sustainable fishing methods.

In addition to highlighting the benefits of changes in fishing methods, fishing gear and certification schemes, the ‘Sea fisheries: steps to sustainability’ report calls for radical reform of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).  Ecological sustainability and better matching of fleet size to the size of available stocks should be made the keystone of more responsive fisheries management.

Helen Phillips continued: “The Common Fisheries Policy needs an urgent overhaul if is it to be fit for the purpose of providing sustainable fish stocks for the future. We need a radical change of approach to avoid a permanent collapse of marine life around our shores and the end of the livelihoods that, for decades, have depended on it”.

Dr Phillips continued: “We can avoid the bleak future that England’s fishing industry currently faces, but we have to accept that far-reaching changes – from policy through to purchase – are now needed. It is only through a fundamental change in approach that we can develop a more sustainable fishing industry and restore England’s fragile undersea landscapes and the rich and varied wildlife they support.”