We need vision for sustainable fishing - Alex Kinninmonth

Last month in a landmark publication the United Nations reported on the global failure to halt the decline of biodiversity – the living fabric of the planet.

RSPB Scotland wants to tackle the accidental capture of seabirds by fishing vessels

On fishing, the UN assessment found that a decade on from setting targets for sustainable fisheries, overfishing continues and that many fisheries are still inflicting collateral damage to marine wildlife. Far from a problem that only applies far beyond these shores, sadly it is a statement could easily have been written about Scotland. Alongside climate change, fishing is considered to have the most profound impact on Scotland’s seas. There have been positives in recent times - recovery of some fish stocks for example - but multiple scientific studies tell us our seas are not in good health.

Fishing has rarely been higher on political agendas than the time running up to and since the EU referendum. Exactly what will come at the end of the transition period is still not certain, but one thing seems clear: come the end of the year, the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy will cease to be the major influence on fishing in Scottish waters. Scotland can choose to set its own course.

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A new approach could see Scotland place itself as a beacon to the world in securing a more resilient future for the seas and coastal communities. But to do so, the Scottish Government needs to articulate its vision for sustainable fisheries, aligned to a new globally ambitious agenda for nature, and outline the path to get us there. And crucially, all those who have an interest in fishing and Scotland’s seas need to get on board and work together.

Alex Kinninmonth, Head of Marine Policy, RSPB Scotland

In our experience, shared knowledge and collaborative working with the fishing industry has been highly effective. We have championed this joint approach in our efforts to tackle one unintended consequence of fishing: seabird bycatch. For the last decade the BirdLife International Albatross Task Force (hosted at the RSPB) has been on a mission to reduce the accidental capture of seabirds in some of the deadliest fisheries for albatross in the Southern Hemisphere. During this time, we’ve learned that we can achieve better, longer-lasting results when we work directly with fishing boat skippers, crew and government to co-develop solutions and implement regulations. In fact, since 2006, when our teams started working in South Africa, there has been an astonishing 99 per cent reduction in albatross deaths.

We’re now beginning to understand the risk of seabird bycatch closer to home. Initial research suggests that a close relative of albatrosses, Northern fulmars, could be suffering a similar fate, with estimates of several thousand birds being caught unintentionally each year in Scottish waters. However, we know from our experience that things can be turned around with relatively simple solutions, and we have recently been working directly with the fishing industry on research to identify them.

Meeting the global challenge of ending biodiversity loss will require us to build on successes and shift to a new fisheries management system that drives nature’s recovery, with high levels of transparency and accountability to the public. Business as usual is no longer a viable option.

RSPB Scotland and partners have identified measures to help achieve a new sustainable, low impact fisheries management in our joint Nature Recovery Plan. To truly ensure the downward trend of nature’s decline is reversed, all stakeholders must urgently work together to not only protect but rebuild the marine life that supports a wide variety of livelihoods. Another lost decade to save nature is ahead of us if we fail to grasp the opportunity now.

Alex Kinninmonth, Head of Marine Policy, RSPB Scotland

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