The UK, having been a member state of the EU and still being in the transition period, is still bound by the Common Fisheries Policy which has restricted our ability to implement fisheries management measures within offshore Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). The UK is a global leader in the fight to protect our seas with our ‘Blue Belt’ of protected waters. As Environment Minister, I added a very large number of marine conservation zones and other areas for marine protection, some of which could lead to restrictions on fishing if that was needed for protection of the marine environment.
We will automatically take back control of our waters, and others’ right to fish in them, at the end of 2020. For the first time in 40 years, we will be free to decide who can access our waters to fish and on what terms. As we enter the next phase as an independent coastal state, we are taking the Fisheries Bill through Parliament which includes a new power to allow the introduction of measures for conservation purposes. The Fisheries Bill prohibits any commercial fishing vessel (including foreign-registered vessels) from operating in UK waters without a licence. It also provides powers to attach conditions (such as the areas that can be fished, species that can be caught and the type of fishing gear that can be used) to fishing vessel licences. Foreign vessels operating in UK waters will have to follow UK rules, including the conditions that are attached to their commercial fishing licence. This will fulfil our Conservative manifesto commitment of a legal commitment to fish sustainably. The Bill also adds regulatory powers to protect and enhance the marine environment and to continue to support the delivery of the Government’s Blue Belt Programme.
The Government is currently considering the recommendations of the Benyon Review into Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs). HPMAs are defined as areas of the sea that allow the protection and recovery of marine ecosystems.