Open Seas: UK Government Fisheries White Paper

vessel tracking boat fishing

The UK Government released a White Paper outlining their intention for replacing the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) on Wednesday. On Thursday Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Fisheries Fergus Ewing condemned the document as a Westminster “power grab” – power over fisheries has long been devolved to Holyrood (and the Senedd and Stormont). Open Seas’ have produced a summary of their view on what the White Paper means for sustainable Scottish seafood.


As has been established elsewhere in the Brexit proceedings, despite leaving the EU in March 2019, the UK will in effect follow EU fishing rules in 2019 and 2020, only by 2021 will we have properly Brexited from a fisheries perspective. The White Paper is essentially therefore setting out the long term plan for after 2020, as well as a few clauses which will mean it can adapt EU legislation in the interim transition period if necessary.

Although fisheries management is fully devolved to Scottish Government (and Governments of Northern Ireland and Wales), each of those countries currently operate within the overarching EU-wide framework, the CFP, and following UK-wide agreements. To replace the CFP following Brexit, the UK/Westminster Government has apparently taken the approach of developing a new UK-wide framework for fisheries itself, and then seeking to cooperate with the devolved governments in its implementation.

What does it say?

Well, the White Paper says a lot and if you’ve got the time we would recommend reading it. We’re working on improving the health of our sea, and the sustainability of our seafood, so here are a few points worth picking out from that perspective.

“This white paper recognises healthy fish stocks are the first step to vibrant commercial and recreational fishing industries, and prioritises a healthy marine environment.”

Priority for a healthy marine environment should be welcomed. Unfortunately, many decisions regarding our fisheries in the past have prioritised profits over the marine environment, leading to widespread damage and decline in the health of our seas. We’ve highlighted a few during the past two years, including the events of Loch Carron leading to destruction on a Flame shell reef, and the out-of-control wild wrasse fishery.

The White Paper proposes this will be done, in part, by pursuing an ecosystem approach to fisheries management – something the Westminster Government has already committed to in its 25-Year Environmental Plan. The aim is that such an approach will “account for, and seek to minimize impacts on non-commercial species and the marine environment more generally”, all things we as an organisation working to improve the health of our sea and sustainability of our fisheries support.

Furthermore, the White Paper notes that “effective management is required to reduce, offset and where possible avoid, those fishing activities which have negative impacts on the health of the marine environment”. A proactive approach to managing the impact of fishing on our marine environment is refreshing to hear. However, as has been noted by others, whilst the White Paper shows an intention to reduce seabird and cetacean bycatch in fisheries, clearly a fishery that prioritises the marine environment would see these things eliminated in their entirety.

Read more at Open Seas.

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