Partnership required in Europe

Published on
November 20, 2011

It’s not just the European Union’s Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) that is causing concern among industry stakeholders — although it “is a shambles so far” and should be reformed “from head to toe” — but the way in which decisions are taken about to manage European fish stocks.

Speakers at the marine fisheries science conference at Fishmongers’ Hall in London on 31 October were fairly pessimistic about the current situation. “The status quo isn’t delivering effective management,” said Phil MacMullen, the environment head at Seafish.

Most speakers agreed that the views and advice of fishermen need to be considered more. Steve Mackinson of Cefas said that fishermen’s knowledge was being wasted and scientists should recognize that fishermen have more to contribute. There was a feeling that scientists spent too much time working on over-complicated computer modelling that doesn’t provide the information required to manage stocks effectively.

Menakhem Ben-Yami, an international fisheries consultant, went even further and said scientists should be sent out to sea on fishing vessels rather than spend all of their time in front of their computers.

Good scientific information was vital if correct decisions were to be taken on future catch rates, according to Sir Angus Stirling, chairman of the Fishmongers’ Co.’s fish and fisheries committee. And the lack of this information was woeful, he said. “Of the 88 fish stocks covered by ICES, only 20 have a management plan,” he noted.

Stirling added that there should be an emphasis on long-term plans for fisheries as opposed to individual stocks.

Long-term management rather than sort-term opportunism was a point made by other speakers, and Mackinson said not only was there was a need for “robust” long-term management plans, but also for better collaboration between scientists, stakeholders and policymakers.

Again and again, the partnership principle was reiterated. Management should be a partnership between government and industry, said Beth Scott, a marine ecologist from the University of Aberdeen.

Most speakers were singing from the same hymn sheet. But it takes more than speeches at a conference to achieve a lasting change. 

As one person said at question time, there has to be political will. And here could well be a sticking point. Too often in the past there has been the usual December gathering of EU fisheries ministers in Brussels where quotas for the following year are decided. And time after time fudges and compromises have been made for political gain.

As a result, ministers have allowed more fish to be caught than the scientists recommend. Even if there are recognized failings and deficiencies in the way in which the science is applied, there is at least an attempt to conserve stocks for the future. 

This year, the stakes could be higher. EU Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki said three-quarters of European stocks were overfished, “and if we don’t break this vicious cycle only eight stocks out of 136 will be sustainable by 2022.” This would be an economic disaster for the European fishing industry, she added, particularly for small-scale fishermen. “We will lose more jobs in the catching sector, but also in processing, transport and port infrastructure — just imagine the negative effect for the coastal regions,” she said.

The reforms Damanaki is proposing for the CFP are well known — she wants to achieve sustainability “as a whole” by moving to maximum sustainable yields for all stocks and, of course, by the phasing out of discards. (A practice described as “ludicrous” at the conference by Sir John Beddington, the UK government’s chief scientific advisor.)

Not surprisingly, Damanaki said scientists have a vital role to play in achieving these objectives, but she wants them to cooperate with the fishing industry so that they can get more data from fishermen on which to base their decisions. The fishermen can also bring their know-how into fisheries management, she added.

There would be financial help to enable them to do this and this would certainly be necessary, according to Mike Park, CEO of the Scottish White Fish Producers’ Organization. However, Park said, “Each fishing vessel has the potential to become a platform for research.”

So what happens next? Is there to be genuine co-operation between the fishermen and the scientists? Damanaki gave the impression that the future of the European fishing industry depended on it.

Want seafood news sent to your inbox?

You may unsubscribe from our mailing list at any time. Diversified Communications | 121 Free Street, Portland, ME 04101 | +1 207-842-5500