I share your concern about the protection and health of British waters, and I am fully aware of the impact that super trawlers have on marine life. Our waters are a precious natural resource and they must be managed carefully. The future of the communities that earn their livelihoods from the sea and the biodiversity of the ocean depends on a balanced and considered approach to fisheries management.
In Chichester, I have been involved in supporting our coastal communities to conserve our environment working with the Chichester Harbour Conservancy, the Environment Agency and the local fishing industry. You may be interested to know that our local fishing fleet is very aware of the importance of sustainable practices at sea. Furthermore, the Selsey fleet is very small and the vast majority of vessels fishing in our area are under-10s.
This Government has a proud track record when it comes to ocean protection. The UK now has 357 Marine Protected Areas of different types, which equates to a quarter of the country’s waters. Even off our coast of Selsey we have a newly introduced Marine Conservation Zone (MCZ) that covers 16 square kilometres.
It is worth mentioning that the UK has led the world in maritime conservation – heading up the Global Ocean Alliance for example, which is working to encourage other nations to support a new global target of protecting at least 30 per cent of the global ocean within Marine Protected Areas by 2030.
At present we are still bound by the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy which has restrictions on our ability to impose more stringent protections on our seas. After the transition period, the UK will be able to introduce stronger measures so that we can manage our waters as we see fit.
The Fisheries Bill currently going through Parliament will help to protect our marine resources and develop plans to restore our fish stock back to more sustainable levels. This builds on a manifesto commitment which promised to introduce a legal commitment to fish sustainably as we become an independent coastal state once again.
I understand that the access of super trawlers to UK waters is of significant concern to local fishing communities and to those working to protect our seas. That is why I am glad that the Fisheries Bill will provide the Government with powers to licence foreign vessels in UK waters. Foreign vessels will have no automatic right of access to our waters in the future. Any vessel granted access to our waters will also be required to abide by UK rules, including on sustainability, and I fully support this approach. We will once again be in control of how we protect our waters.
I can assure you that the Government is listening to concerns and acting in the best interests of the UK.