Climate-smart fisheries can change the fate of our oceans
An effective climate-smart fishing strategy would reduce the carbon emissions that come directly from the UK fishing fleet; enhance marine biodiversity by reducing the damage from unsustainable fishing practices.
In becoming an independent coastal state, the UK government made commitments to become world leaders in marine management and ensure a sustainable future for fisheries through the Fisheries Act, 2020.
In the run up to COP26, which is now less than 100 days away, the UK is in the perfect position, to show real global leadership and deliver climate-smart fisheries.
The fishing sector is perhaps unique in being both affected by, and contributing to, climate change. From direct damage from bottom-towed fishing gear to blue carbon sinks in our seabed, to carbon emissions from the fleet itself, there are plenty of ways in which the UK’s fishing fleet can modernize and become climate-smart.
Unfortunately, the sector has also been hit badly by the effects of climate change to our waters – ocean warming is impacting once abundant cold-water species such as cod and haddock, and resulting in biodiversity loss across the marine ecosystem. Urgent action must be taken to change the fate of our seas. To achieve this we need to modernise how we source our seafood.
UK governments should create incentives to decarbonise the UK fishing fleet and eliminate inefficient fleet structures
In the wake of the IPCC report, and ahead of the COP26 climate summit, we at the Marine Conservation Society, alongside WWF and the RSPB, are calling on UK governments to make good on the commitment made in the Fisheries Act, and put UK fisheries on a sustainable footing by adopting a “climate-smart” strategy.
An effective climate-smart fishing strategy would reduce the carbon emissions that come directly from the UK fishing fleet; enhance marine biodiversity by reducing - and where possible reversing - the damage from unsustainable fishing practices and increase the potential for UK seas to act as a carbon sink by helping protect blue carbon habitats.
Our new report, Shifting gears: achieving climate-smart fisheries, shows the extent to which the sector is adding to the climate and nature crises while also recognising the need for increased research to help fill knowledge gaps as part of a new climate-smart approach.
According to the report, over 50% of the vessels in the UK’s fishing fleet are aged 30 years old or more, with the vast majority powered by fossil fuels. Based on UK fishing vessel activity data, UK fisheries are estimated to have emitted 914.4. kilotonnes of CO2 over a 1 year period: the same as providing the annual energy for over 110,000 homes.
By reducing carbon emissions that come directly from the UK fishing fleet, limiting damage from unsustainable fishing practices and protecting blue carbon habitats, our report outlines a pathway to achieving climate-smart fisheries.
So, how can we make fisheries climate-smart? Our recommendations include reducing pressure from fishing gears like bottom trawls and dredges by incentivising a move to methods such as longlines.
We also recommend increasing transparency and traceability across all vessels fishing in UK waters to improve understanding of the impact of fishing and aid stock recovery. This could be achieved by mandating the installation of Remote Electronic Monitoring systems with CCTV cameras across all vessels fishing in UK waters, to provide a true picture of catch levels and provide data to improve management. The removal of bottom towed gear from within existing Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) designated for seabed features, would protect blue carbon habitats, and limit towed gear impacts in important blue carbon sites outside MPAs.
Finally, UK governments should create incentives to decarbonise the UK fishing fleet and eliminate inefficient fleet structures. For example by ending fossil fuel subsidies and investing in fishers to move to electric and solar powered vessels.
The Fisheries Act, 2020, was the first step in the UK’s journey to a truly sustainable, climate-smart fishing sector. But, the UK governments must work together to make this vision a reality. COP26 provides the ultimate platform from which the four nations can position themselves as world-leading, and create a global template for climate smart fisheries.
Gareth Cunningham is the head of fisheries and aquaculture at the Marine Conservation Society.
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