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Call for government action to cut climate impact of fishing industry

Steve Parsons

By Emily Beament, PA Environment Correspondent

Action is needed to cut the environmental impact of the UK fishing industry to tackle climate change, campaigners have warned.

A report from green groups says fisheries contribute to greenhouse gas emissions by disturbing “blue carbon” stores in marine habitats or depleting stocks of fish and shellfish and using fossil fuels for vessels.

Conservation groups WWF, the RSPB and Marine Conservation Society (MCS) are calling on UK Governments to implement “climate-smart” management of fisheries, protecting habitats, improving stocks and cutting fossil fuel use.

Doing so would futureproof UK fisheries, which are also vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, by helping the oceans recover, providing food supplies, reversing loss of wildlife and curbing global warming, they say.

The report highlights how fishing can damage stores of carbon in the sea, such as seagrass meadows, seaweed and the sediment on the seabed; for example, by bottom trawling, which can release carbon back into the atmosphere.

Carbon is also contained in fish and other marine life which, if not removed from the sea, would sink as carcasses to the bottom, with the carbon stored in the sediments.

But intensive fishing has removed large volumes of fish, depleting stocks and extracting the carbon from the seas, as well as affecting the wider ecosystems that store the greenhouse gas.

And powering fishing vessels requires significant fossil fuel use, with UK fisheries emitting the same amount of carbon dioxide over a one-year period as the energy use of 110,000 homes, the green groups said.

The report calls for measures such as limiting the use of bottom trawling gear in protected areas and other key spots, and decarbonising the UK fishing fleet with steps such as removing fuel subsidies.

The report also calls for mandatory remote monitoring with cameras on vessels in British waters to improve transparency on catches and boost the health of fish stocks.

Environmentalists are urging the Government to use the post-Brexit Fisheries Act to address the global warming impact of fisheries ahead of hosting the international Cop26 climate summit in Glasgow in November.

Helen McLachlan, fisheries programme lead at WWF, said: “The ocean is the blue heart of our planet and, when it comes to tackling the climate and nature crises, we ignore it at our peril.

“As an independent coastal state, the UK has the chance to set a gold standard in fisheries management by delivering on the world-leading climate commitments set out in the UK Fisheries Act 2020 – ministers must make good on that promise.”

Gareth Cunningham, head of fisheries and aquaculture at the Marine Conservation Society, said: “Much like we seek to modernise the UK’s energy sector, we need a modern approach to how we source our seafood.

“Realising the benefits of climate-smart fishing is vital to restoring our marine environment, providing a healthy source of protein and a future for the industry that supplies it.”

And Alex Kinninmonth, the RSPB’s head of marine policy, said: “The nature and climate emergency is threatening life above and below the waves right here in the UK.

“Every industry must now play a part in driving the rapid decarbonisation and restoration of nature needed to avoid climate breakdown.

“This report offers a road map for fisheries managers to meet climate targets while safeguarding our seas for future generations.”

An Environment Department (Defra) spokesperson said: “The UK has long championed sustainable fishing and marine protection, as evidenced by the Climate Change Objective in our Fisheries Act.

“This sets a gold standard for fisheries management by working with the industry to reduce its contribution to climate change and adapt to its impacts.”

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