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18 August 2021

Press Release

For immediate release

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Out of hours: 07500 577620


UK governments must futureproof fisheries with ‘climate-smart’ action – WWF, Marine Conservation Society, RSPB

  • New report shows need to address environmental impact of fisheries sector to help accelerate progress towards climate and nature goals.
  • WWF, the Marine Conservation Society and RSPB urge UK governments to futureproof fisheries with ‘climate-smart’ strategy.
  • UK Fisheries Act 2020 sets stage for world-leading fisheries strategy, but the clock is ticking to make the commitment ahead of COP26.

The UK can futureproof its fisheries – and show world leadership in the process – by adopting a ‘climate-smart’ strategy for the sector, according to a new report from WWF, Marine Conservation Society and RSPB.

In the wake of the IPCC report, and ahead of the COP26 climate summit, the conservation organisations are calling on UK governments to make good on the commitment made in the Fisheries Act, and put UK fisheries on a sustainable footing by adopting a ‘climate-smart’ strategy, that would:

  • reduce the carbon emissions that come directly from the UK fishing fleet;
  • enhance marine biodiversity by reducing - and where possible reversing - the damage from unsustainable fishing practices;
  • increase the potential for UK seas to act as a carbon sink by helping protect blue carbon habitats.

Right now, far from harnessing the power of UK seas to act as a climate hero, Shifting gears – achieving climate-smart fisheries shows the extent to which the sector is adding to the climate and nature crises, for example through direct emissions and disruption to the marine environment. It also recognises the need for increased research to help fill knowledge gaps as part of a new climate-smart approach.

According to the report, over 50% of the UK fishing fleet vessels around 30 years old, and the vast majority are powered by fossil fuels. Based on UK fishing vessel activity data, UK fisheries are estimated to have emitted 914.4. kilotons of CO2 over a 1 year period, the same as providing the annual energy use of over 110,000 homes.

Fisheries can also damage the ocean’s capacity to act as a carbon sink, due to the use of bottom towed gear that destroys carbon-rich habitats like seagrass meadows and muddy sediments, while fishing beyond sustainable levels removes too much biomass from the ocean, further undermining its potential as a carbon sink. The first post-Brexit UK fish stock audit published at the start of 2021 showed that only three of the UK’s top ten fish populations are fished at or below maximum sustainable yield.  

Despite these impacts, the report shows that fisheries are all-too-often overlooked by governments in strategies to address the climate and nature crises. It concludes that, by adopting a ‘climate-smart’ fisheries strategy, UK governments could help to accelerate progress to net zero and make the UK fishing industry leaders in the field.

The UK already has world-leading legislation in place to deliver this – in the form of the UK Fisheries Act, 2020 – which sets out a clear objective to address the climate impact of fisheries. A ‘climate-smart’ approach is a blueprint to deliver on that target. 

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.

“Adopting a climate-smart strategy is the way to do this, futureproofing the sector while showcasing the UK’s commitment to slashing its global environmental footprint ahead of COP26. We won’t forget the UK governments’ climate promises and, together with our supporters, we will hold governments to account for delivering on them.”

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. Not just to address the dual climate and nature crises, but to ensure that sustainable seafood is an integral part of the UK food system. 

“Change is never easy. But we cannot build a sustainable, healthy seafood sector whilst damaging the marine environment. 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.”

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 roadmap for fisheries managers to meet climate targets while safeguarding our seas for future generations. Ahead of crucial climate and nature COPs and with a Joint Fisheries Statement by all four governments of the UK due, now is the crucial moment to commit to and deliver an ambitious ‘climate-smart’ strategy to future proof our fisheries and revive our world.”

The report further explores how low emissions fishing ventures could deliver economic benefits, boosting tourism and bolstering the UK’s reputation for truly sustainable seafood.


For further information, additional content or to arrange an interview, please contact

Lucinda Kay | Media Manager (News) at WWF

T: +44 (0) 1483 412 487 |  M: +44 (0) 7932 345 284| E:

Out of hours contact

T: +44 (0) 7500 577620 | E:

Gareth Brede | Senior Media Officer at the RSPB

T: 07841 804 206 | E:

Evie Martin | PR and Events Officer at the Marine Conservation Society



  • The full report, Shifting gears – achieving climate-smart fisheries, is available here.  
  • Specific elements of a ‘climate smart’ approach include:  
    • reducing pressure from active fishing gears like trawls and dredges by incentivising a move to passive approaches; 
    • increasing transparency and traceability across UK fishing industry to improve understanding of impact of fishing and aid stock recovery, for example mandating the installation of Remote Electronic Monitoring systems with CCTV cameras across the UK fleet to  provide a true picture of catch levels and data to improve management;  
    • ban bottom towed gear to protect blue carbon habitats within existing MPAs designated for seabed features, as well as limiting towed gear in important blue carbon sites outside current MPAs; 
    • creating incentives to decarbonise the UK fishing fleet and eliminate inefficient fleet structures, for example by ending fossil fuel subsidies and encouraging fishers to move to electric and solar powered vessels. 
  • Blue carbon refers to the carbon captured and stored in coastal and marine ecosystems. This includes vegetated habitats such as seagrass meadows, saltmarshes, and seaweeds, as well as carbon stored in seabed sediment and the carbon sequestered by living organisms. If left undisturbed, significant volumes of blue carbon can remain stored in the marine environment for millennia, decreasing the volume of carbon in the atmosphere that contributes to climate change.
  • On the 23rd of November 2020, the UK Fisheries Act (2020) came into force. The UK Fisheries Act is the first to acknowledge the fishing industry’s contribution to climate change, and fisheries objective 8 of the Fisheries Act 2020 states: “The “climate change objective” is that— (a) the adverse effect of fish and aquaculture activities on climate change is minimised, and (b) fish and aquaculture activities adapt to climate change”.
  • Under the act, each of the devolved administrations has fisheries management powers, allowing the opportunity for tailored approaches to fisheries management, specific to the needs of each administration’s marine industry and waters.
  • A WWF report  - Thriving Within Our Planetary Means (July 2021) – outlined the UK’s disproportionately high impact on climate and nature, and called for an ambitious target to slash the UK’s global environmental footprint – the impact of everything we produce and consume - by 75% by the end of the decade.