“Sustainability” sounds like an ambitious shared goal for the citizens, companies and governments of the world to achieve, but its premise is really quite simple. In terms of producing food from the wild, being “sustainable” means committing to harvesting animals or plants in a way that means you don’t run out of that species or population. It is hardly a bold statement to say “we agree not to catch so much wildlife that we ultimately run out of it”; it’s a commitment to the lowest common denominator, to rational sense.
And yet, in the ongoing developments around its post-Brexit fisheries law (the Fisheries Bill), the UK government has failed to make sustainable fishing a legal requirement. If the UK cannot even commit to avoiding overfishing in law, surely this undermines its other ocean promises, from “Blue Belts” to “Highly Protected Marine Areas”, intended to show strong leadership in marine protection. The UK’s marine biodiversity faces a daunting array of fishing-related challenges, from the heavy reliance of its domestic fleet on seabed-damaging fishing gears to the bycatch risk posed by distant water “supertrawler” vessels. Ensuring the fishing that happens in its waters is sustainable is only the beginning of the journey to safeguard ocean health; far greater tests lie ahead.