Safeguarding our fish and fisheries must be our priority following the vote for Brexit, writes Andrew Flitcroft
WHETHER YOU were “in” or “out”, few of us could have predicted the overnight disintegration of British politics following Brexit. As I write Jeremy Corbyn is still hanging on to the Labour leadership by a light tippet while a host of other politicians have fled the scene. It’s a mess, isn’t it? I watched it all unfold on TV while sat in a hut on the Kola peninsula with some Russian and German fishers. You couldn’t have made it up. But my thoughts soon turned to fishing and what influence Brexit may have on our sport. Whatever you thought of our membership of the European Union (EU), there were significant benefits from an environmental perspective. The EU imposes environmental laws with targets and thresholds that member states must honour. States that don’t play ball are held accountable and sanctions or fines can be imposed on those that fail to meet obligations. I spoke to two important representatives of anglers’ interests to get their perspectives on Brexit: Mark Lloyd, boss of the Angling Trust and Fish Legal, and first Paul Knight, chief executive of Salmon & Trout Conservation (S&TC). Paul told me, “Following our successful 2014 complaint to Europe that the Scottish Government was failing the EU Habitats Directive with its lack of wild salmon management, the coastal nets were closed down this year. We have also just complained to Europe under the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) about the lack of effective regulation over sea-lice management in the Scottish salmon-farming industry. So, these European complaints are presently our ultimate weapons for influencing government action. It is all too easy for politicians operating under home legislation to cite overriding public interest as an excuse for allowing, say, a development that impacts local wild fisheries habitat. It is only the fear of European fines that seems to encourage any meaningful action. “So, Brexit could be seen as a negative for fisheries protection. However, there are potential positives. We must impose genuine environmental conditions on farmers in return for whatever subsidy scheme takes the place of the Common Agricultural Policy, which has done precious little to protect the aquatic environment from sediment and other agricultural impact. If we remain in the European Economic Area, the Government will still have to abide by the Water Framework Directive, which, despite its limitations, will at least keep a focus on our rivers and their ecology. “Whatever deal the UK does with the EU to access the European market S&TC intends to work with other larger environmental organisations and use our collective contacts in Europe to lobby for the inclusion of the most stringent possible environmental obligations on UK governments. Then the freshwater fisheries fallout from Brexit will be minimised” Mark Lloyd told me Brexit negotiations could drag on for years. He said, “It is clear that the Angling Trust and others are going to have to fight hard for the best deal for fish and fishing. “If we are to remain in the Single Market, which seems more likely than not, we are probably going to have to continue to abide by many of its rules. “We will be pressing for EU environmental legislation such as the MSFD, Water Framework Directive and Urban Wastewater Treatment Directive, all of which are already written into UK law, to be maintained and implemented in full to protect fish, other aquatic species and habitats. It’s unlikely, in my view, that they will be repealed in the near future; we simply don’t have enough civil servants to write the legislation that would be required to replace them. “However, in leaving the EU there is a risk these Directives will slowly be watered down over the years that follow and that the UK might not be subject to revisions, in which case we will have to fight for new safeguards to protect rivers from pollution, abstraction and hydropower. There may be an upside to this in the form of opportunities for greater freedom for fishery managers to control predators, but in the grand scheme of things these Directives protect more fish than predators kill. “And it’s not just the Directives that are important as there’s also a host of European Union regulations covering important issues like emissions and pollution control that need to be defended. If the European Communities Act is repealed, all of these will cease to apply to the UK. “Angling Trust and Fish Legal will be working closely with the All Party Parliamentary Angling Group, which includes some very influential MPS, to influence the debate.” I can only echo Paul and Mark’s thoughts and recommend that you support their organisations in the ongoing fight to protect our fisheries.
“In leaving the EU there is a risk these Directives will slowly be watered down”