Sustainability's success lies with the market
The European Union's existing Common Fisheries Policy is "nonsensical" and the responsibility to resolve the fishing industry's woes lies with the market, attendees of the conference "The Sustainability of the European Seafood Industry" said on Wednesday at the European Seafood Exposition.
One week after the European Commission's green paper, which called for "whole scale fundamental" reform to the current regime, speakers at the conference offered their insight into potential paths toward sustainability.
And their visions were shot through with the belief that unlocking the power of the market will play a crucial role in reaching sustainability goals.
"Top down management should be replaced by market regulation," said speaker Poul Torring, a consultant with Gemba Seafood Consulting and an adviser to the Danish government.
For Torring, a market-based system would change "everything."
"Markets are good at allocating resources in an efficient way," he added.
EU officials in the EC's green paper, released last week, admitted five key failings in the CFP, including a deep-rooted problem of fleet overcapacity, imprecise policy objectives and a framework that fails to give "sufficient responsibility" to the industry.
The report said that 88 percent of European fish stocks are overfished, compared to a global average of 25 percent, and that 93 percent of North Sea cod stocks are fished before the fish can breed.
The EC, Europe's executive body, underlined the urgent need for "whole-scale and fundamental" reform to the current regime and a called for drastic cuts to the EU's 90,000-vessel fishing fleet.
Speaking at the exhibition's conference on Wednesday, Poul Degnbol, an adviser on scientific matters at the EC and heavily involved in the reform paper, stressed the fact that "overcapacity" was the core problem of the fishing industry's woes.
"Options for change include a market-based allocation of access rights, and the application of direct public intervention only for scrapping," he said.
According to Degnbol, the "effective use" of market-based allocation of access rights is already underway. Hand-in-hand with such a move comes more responsibility to the industry, with self-management, and co-management, the order of the day.
"There would be a reversal of the burden of proof, replacing the top-down control in place today," he commented.
In his presentation, Danish consultant Torring proposed one potential method already underway in Denmark to engender one such reversal.
"Denmark has started using cameras on board their fishing vessels to track and share how fish are caught," he said.
At a cost of around EUR 6,000 (USD 7,960), the cameras could be a practical tool to not only boost credibility, traceability and sustainability but also to reduce the occurrence of discards, said Torring.
According to Torring, Denmark was inspired by British Columbia in Canada, which has used the cameras on vessels for some time.
But again, stressing the need to step away from top-down management, he underlined that any such scheme should be optional, with any uptake dictated by the fishing firm.
The voice of the fishing industry, Niels Wichman, president at Europeche, called for a coherent policy for CFP reform that fishermen could understand. And again, echoing the consensus that greater responsibility should be placed in the hands of the industry, he said: "We need decisions to return back to the catching sector. This is crucial for success."
Citing as an example the current paper trail for certification of the Marine Stewardship Council, Wichman claimed that one hurdle to sustainability and certification "is the bureaucracy."
Tony Long, director of the European office at the World Wildlife Fund, echoed the EC's view that there are "too many boats chasing too few fish." He also voiced the recurrent opinion of the speakers that responsibility should shift away from Brussels toward "regional and national levels."
And with the spotlight on environmental protection and sustainability, Long added: "Some member states may wish for the status quo to continue, but 2012 reform and implementation must occur to avoid the collapse of the [fishing] industry."