Sweden leads the pack with new fishery management system

Published on
January 12, 2017

This month, the Swedish Marine Agency (SWaM) will introduce a new fisheries management system, based on individually allocated fishing rights, in a radical move away from the country’s previous regime.

The catalyst for this transition was Swedish fishermen, who identified that changes would need to be made in order for the industry to successfully implement the European Union’s Landing Obligation (LO). The LO - or discard ban - which is a central part of the reformed Common Fishery Policy (CFP), is gradually being introduced across the major commercial species. By 2019, fishermen will have to land 100 percent of all quota species caught.

Previously fishermen had been free to discard their unwanted catch, or species for which they did not hold quota, so the introduction of the discard ban represents a significant challenge to fishing businesses.

As industry identified, the existing collective quota management system in Sweden meant that under the LO, national quota could quickly become exhausted for certain “choke” species. This would result in all vessels using a gear type that could catch those species having to remain in port, regardless of whether they had quota left to catch other fish.

The potential consequences for large parts of the fleet and for processors, caused ripples of concern throughout the industry, and inspired the Swedish Fishermen’s Producer Organization (SFPO) and others, to seek a workable solution.

Acknowledging the urgent need to re-think the country’s management regime, in 2014 SWaM began talking to SFPO and the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), whose oceans program helps to design sustainable fishing solutions around the world, taking into account the needs of fishermen, seafood suppliers and retailers, as well as policymakers.

“Working with fishermen throughout the process was a priority for EDF,” said Andrea Giesecke, Environmental Defense Fund's lead in Sweden. “For a solution to be effective, and improve the likelihood of compliance and positive results, it had to be one that the catchers felt they had a stake in.”

Over two years, EDF supported industry’s leadership, and worked with the Swedish demersal fishing fleet to provide a platform for open discussion. This enabled the fishermen to identify a way forward that didn’t put the small-scale fleet at risk, whilst securing a future for the large-scale demersal vessels. The organization also worked with Sweden’s government on assuring legal and compliance.

Once the fishermen’s ideas were fully formed, SFPO and EDF conveyed the concept of quota management based on individually allocated quotas to the policy-makers. The proposed new system met with an enthusiastic response from policy-makers and the IVQ-based management framework was confirmed by the Swedish government on 16 December 2016, with a ‘live’ date of January 2017.

“This was no easy task as initially the majority of fishermen were against change, but once we got them to understand the benefits of co-management and a bottom-up system, they became proactive and contributed many good ideas to the discussion. They liked the idea of it being ‘their’ system,” said SFPO chairman Peter Olsson, who instrumental in getting the process off the ground and in maintaining its momentum.

Giesecke said the new system provides newfound flexibility to fishermen.

“The individually allocated quota system allows for much better planning, flexibility and economic opportunities for fishermen, as they can choose when to fish according to season, weather and demand, as well as having the option to lease or buy additional quota from others in the fleet if the fishing is good,” said Giesecke.

A one-year limitation on the transferability of quota means that no significant structural change can take place in the fleet, as quota allocations are reset each year.

“From a conservation perspective, this system encourages fishermen to view and use the resource as a long-term asset to be cared for and to see grow, thereby incentivizing sustainable stewardship of stocks. It also helps them to keep their businesses profitable,” said Giesecke.

She explained that while celebration is in order for all parties involved, EDF has found from experience that a step-change in fishing practice requires ongoing support to ensure the best possible outcomes for fish, fishermen and businesses.

“We applaud [Sweden’s] efforts to show that good, tailored fishery management can deliver on social, economic and environmental sustainability – most of all, we applaud the fishermen for their integral role in commencing this process, and ensuring it delivered a good result. We will continue working with the partners to see this put into practice,” said Giesecke.

For Olsson, it is also not the end of the story.

“The framework is in place but we need to continue to develop our relationship with SWaM to ensure that the allocation of quota meets the fishermen’s expectations and there remains much work to be done,” he said.

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