Consultation on the draft Joint Fisheries Statement
Response by the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations
Introduction and Background
The UK’s formal departure from the EU (and consequently from the Common Fisheries Policy) can be regarded as a necessary initial first step towards independent coastal state status. The UK now holds legal authority (under UNCLOS) to sustainably manage the fisheries resources within the UK EEZ, independent and separate from the CFP. Several additional steps are, however, required to bring the full realisation of meaningful coastal state status.
International Fisheries Agreements
Cooperation with those countries with whom the UK shares specific fish stocks is a broad overarching principle and requirement within UNCLOS. The UK now enters fisheries negotiations as an independent sovereign party. As such, the UK has entered into fisheries framework agreements with Norway and the Faeroes Islands which provide the broad guiding principles for future annual fisheries agreements.
Trade and Cooperation Agreement
The UK has also signed the more detailed and complex UK/EU Trade and Cooperation agreement, the chapters on fisheries of which provide for annual fisheries agreements, and a Specialised Committee on Fisheries to deal with other aspects of the UK/EU fisheries relationship. The provisions of the UK/EU trade and cooperation agreement (TCA) tie the UK into an adjustment period governing access arrangements. The adjustment period lasts until 2026. The TCA acknowledges that the two parties have regulatory autonomy over fishing activity within their respective EEZs but cedes access to EU fleets to fish within the UK EEZ (and under specified conditions to the UK 6-12nm limits) during the adjustment period.
EU Retained Fisheries Law and the Fisheries Act 2022
A large body of EU fisheries regulation was transferred directly onto the UK statute books from the CFP, adopted as EU retained law, pending retention, revision, or repeal, using the powers to UK ministers granted under the Fisheries Act 2020. That Act sets eight fisheries objectives which ministers must take into account when formulating and implementing secondary legislation.
Joint Fisheries Statement
The Joint Fisheries Statement, on which the four UK fisheries administrations are now consulting, represents a shared high-level vision of how those objectives will be met during the first phase of the UK’s operation as an independent coastal state.
The central thrust and structure of the Joint Fisheries Statement (JFS) is an implicit and explicit acknowledgement that fisheries are largely a devolved area of responsibility. Significantly, international negotiations, including fisheries agreements, remain a reserved power
These four elements provide the legislative and policy architecture which will both manage the transition from the CFP to a more customised UK fisheries policy and provide the framework for the future development of the content of that policy.
In broad terms, the NFFO welcomes the JFS and regards it (and the Fisheries Act 2020 which preceded it) as serious and well thought-through attempts to deal with an undoubtedly complex policy arena. The policy direction in both the Act and the JFS suggests that important lessons arising from our experience under the CFP have been absorbed and have informed important new and innovative approaches. European Commission green papers in advance of the CFP reviews in 2003 and 2013 identified the central fisheries management challenges on the European continental shelf. A centralised, top-down, command-and-control approach applied to multiple, diverse, multi-species, multi-gear and multi-jurisdiction fisheries tends to produce:
- Frequent policy delivery failures
- Unintended consequences
- Alienation and disaffection amongst those whose activities are being regulated
- Vast complexity, as multiple derogations and exemptions are needed to accommodate fisheries which fail to fit the rigid one-size-fits-all template being applied
Moves to decentralise the CFP decision-making process were in fact under way in the establishment of regional advisory councils (2003), and the regionalisation of policy formulation (2013) to address this recognised weakness. Simultaneously, however, the Lisbon Treaty (2009) and in particular the extension of co-decision making (European Commission, Council of Ministers and European Parliament) to fisheries, reasserted and reinforced blunt, top-down, legislative approaches. The results are most clearly seen in the incoherence of the EU landings obligation (2013).
A recognition of the inherent limits of top-down command and control approaches to managing complex and diverse fisheries lies at the heart of the Fisheries Act and the JFS. This is important and welcome. Whilst a fisheries management framework is necessary to fulfil the UK’s international obligations, set broad policy directions and define responsibilities, the management of fisheries at the appropriate scale and with the close involvement of those whose activities being managed lies at the heart of the new approach. This is an important corrective to some of the blind alleys visited over the last four decades.
The chosen vehicle for delivering the broad objectives in the Fisheries Act is the fisheries management plan, one for each fishery, dovetailed into an interlocking system of overall fisheries management system. This is that strategy and plan for an evolution away from the rigidity of the CFP decision-making process and towards a more agile, adaptive, collaborative set of arrangements. It is a mammoth undertaking, not without its own challenges. It will require fisheries managers, fisheries scientists and the fishing industry itself, to change and adapt. It is also an approach that the NFFO has worked and argued for, and strongly supports.
The new approaches envisaged do not take place in a vacuum and the NFFO’s initial comments on the JFS consultation identifies some of the significant external factors that will come into play. We ignore these at our peril. https://www.nffo.org.uk/joint-fisheries-statements-nffo-first-reactions/ Put plainly, despite the centrality of the Fisheries Act and the JFS, there are many external factors, from the TCA to the politics of devolution, to international geopolitics that have the potential to shape the way we manage our fisheries beyond the intentions and provisions laid out in the legislation.
The word adaptive above is important. Given the inherent complexity of managing the numerous, diverse, often overlapping, fisheries within and beyond the UK EEZ, it is unlikely that we will get things right straightaway. A degree of humility and realism is required when designing and implementing management measures for complex dynamic fisheries. Unintended consequences are a frequent feature of fisheries management. Both the Fisheries Act and the JFS acknowledge that it is important to be able to take first steps and then adjust as we learn.
Frameworks and Content
If the Fisheries Act 2020 is the legislative framework for the future development of UK fisheries policy, the Joint Fisheries Statement provides the policy framework. The aim is to add substance and content over time, mainly through the development and application of fisheries specific fisheries management plans. This makes complete sense and can be regarded as laying the foundations and installing the essential support infrastructures for future fisheries policy. This does, however, leave many what might be regarded at first sight as omissions, gaps, silences, and underdeveloped themes. This is mainly deliberate and consistent with the broad approach being taken. On the other hand, there may be issues and policy areas that have been omitted through oversight or have been treated inadequately.
In our response therefore, where we highlight some of those gaps, our remarks are often not so much criticisms as pointers towards the direction we consider policy should now head.
The National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations is the representative body for fishermen and fishing vessel operators, in England and Wales.. As such, the NFFO represents many different fleets and sizes of vessel, employing many different fishing gears and targeting many different species. Although we would not purport to represent the whole inshore fleet, many parts of which lack any representative cover, it is safe to say that the NFFO represents more under-10m fishermen as members than any other body in England. The Federation also represents the interests of eight producer organisations on the national and international stage and over-10m vessels operating outside producer organisations.
As has been made clear above, we welcome the Fisheries Act and the JFS as important steps towards a rational and effective framework for the future management of our fisheries. This is not, however, to say that we do not have our fears, concerns and doubts about aspects of the JFS, which bears the hallmarks of a document drafted to meet different demands from different quarters. This response has benefited from a series of detailed meetings with the Defra team responsible for trading the document and the efforts of an internal NFFO working group.
Our concerns fall into five main categories:
- Participation in policy formulation
- Balance and proportionality
- The interface between domestic policy and international negotiations
- External impacts
- Underdeveloped Areas
Participation in Policy Formulation
Fisheries management plans are an integral part of the approach described in the JFS.
Accepting that the process of formulating the first tranche of FMPs is only just getting under way, we nevertheless think that it is important to express concern over the lack of clarity in the JFS as to how those whose activities will be directly affected by the content of specific plans will be able to participate in their design and implementation.
In particular, we have concerns over how we will be consulted on the development of FMPs where responsibility lies with another fisheries administration, but the fishery lies within English waters. The Farne Deeps nephrops fishery is an obvious example. This is currently the most vulnerable functional unit and where management measures are most immediately required. Cosmetic consultation after the event will not be sufficient. A clear idea about how those who are affected by FMPs will be involved in their design in the vital early stages of policy formulation will be essential.
Reference to co-management is made within the JFS but there is little depth as to advance our understanding as what it will mean in practice in different circumstances. The Shellfish Industry Advisory Group and its subgroups provide one model of a platform for co-management within the shellfish sector, and an equivalent for non-quota finfish species has revently been established. We believe that the SAIG provides a useful template for involving the three main groups that should be involved in the development of FMPs: fisheries managers, fisheries scientists, and the relevant parts of the fishing industry.
Ideally the JFS would have had much more to say on how co-management will (or could function) in different fisheries. The mechanisms for industry/science/management collaboration are absent or underdeveloped in the JFS. The JFS would also benefit from a reference to the involvement of the industry in the delivery of fisheries science.
Finally, if co-management is to be meaningful, it will require both human and material resources. Yet the JFS is relatively silent on this, apart from an enigmatic and to some, troubling, reference to “making a greater contribution to costs.”
There is we believe, a huge appetite in the fishing industry to work collaboratively with fisheries managers and fisheries scientists. The priority must be to find the institutional arrangements that allow this dialogue to take place. Once established, an iterative process of engagement, in a continuous feedback loop is likely to deliver the best outcomes.
The idea of nested FMPs goes a considerable way to dealing with the questions of FMP boundaries and overlapping fisheries. The example of how dialogue could be structured in the shellfish sector is relevant:
- Sea-basin management and international negotiations
- Non-Quota Species: Multi-year strategies with both domestic and international dimensions
- Shellfish Industry Advisory Group
- Crab/lobster/whelk/scallop subgroups
- Regional or local input
Balance and Proportionality
Recent events in Ukraine since the JFS was drafted, have triggered important policy re-evaluations particularly in the spheres of defence, energy security and food security. It will be important for the JFS to reflect and allow for some of these fundamental reorientations. The catching, landing and sale of fish by primary producers, is the foundation for the whole supply chain. In light of this ongoing policy re-evaluation the JFS should:
- Prioritise our most important food production areas from pressures from other marine users
- Re-evaluate the UK’s negotiating priorities in international fisheries agreements,
- Promote the balance between food security and environmental protection.
The text would benefit from a more explicit assurance that an equilibrium is required between maintaining food supplies and securing long term environmental objectives and that trade-offs are an integral part of fisheries management
Environmental objectives are necessary and important, but in our view the JFS as currently drafted fails to achieve an adequate balance between the importance of food supply and environmental protection. The way in which a balance can be achieved is through a risk-based approach through which risks are analysed and weighed against the benefits of food production. In particular, no clear link has been made between a risk-based approach and the precautionary approach – a discussion of proportionality is missing.
The contribution to the national benefit objective made by catching, landing, selling and consuming fish is understated. This should be strengthened.
The most challenging management challenges often lie with mixed fisheries. Although it is possible to see mixed fisheries considerations just under the surface of the draft JFS, the document would benefit from a clear discussion of the necessary trade-offs required to manage fisheries where a mix of species are caught together, and fisheries managers (and fisheries management plans) must balance competing management objectives.
This is especially true of the way the concept of maximum sustainable yield is defined and used. MSY is a useful benchmark but becomes problematic employed dogmatically, without a degree of pragmatism and flexibility. Ultimately we have no control over biomass, which can be affected by climate change, food competition and predation. The use of Bmsy to mark trigger points for management intervention is not without its challenges but a clear focus on fishing mortality provides more rational and biologically literate tool to use. We are surprised that this is not made more explicit in the JFS. Similarly, the reference to “time-bound targets” can be rendered meaningless and unachievable if due consideration to natural biological processes is not given.
The notion that fisheries management plans could be used to inform the UK’s negotiating positions is aspirational but there are a number of practical and political obstacles:
- How is the interface between domestic management plans and international fisheries negotiations to be managed?
- How to balance transparency with stakeholders with effective negotiating strategies?
- The politics of devolution have the capacity to derail the translation of FMPs into international fisheries agreements. How is that relationship to be managed?
- How will relevant parts of the fishing industry be involved in fisheries negotiations?
- Where a fisheries administration takes the lead on the development of a FMP, there is potential for discriminatory outcomes, in effect or through intention. Although all FMPs require sign-off by all interested fisheries administrations, this is not an adequate safeguard if the relevant stakeholders (from a different jurisdiction) have been excluded from the development process. The example of the directed and bycatch fisheries for saithe is a case in point. Similarly, measures detrimental to pelagic freezer trawlers could be applied in an ostensibly disinterested but actually discriminatory way
- The principle should be a much clearer requirement that all fisheries administrations should involve all affected stakeholders from the outset – not only as part of a formal consultative exercise after plans have been developed; this would minimise the scope for political horse-trading
- The scope for internal UK relationships to shape external fisheries relationships requires further discussion – the issue is not restricted to the UK/EU fisheries relationship – and should cover the main elements of fisheries agreements:
- TAC setting
- Access arrangements
- Quota Exchanges
- Common technical measures (where appropriate)
- Data exchange
- Control enforcement and monitoring
We hesitate to overload this section because we recognise that the JFS is a high-level document and that it is exactly an over-prescriptive top-down approach that we wish to leave behind in favour of an adaptive approach based on evidence, participation and balance. Nevertheless, it may be useful to lay some markers about concerns or suggestions for future work.
Displacement and Marine Spatial Planning
The acknowledgment that displacement of fishing activity will be an inevitable consequence of the spatial squeeze is welcome – but the JFS provides no indication of how displacement is to be mitigated of how it might impact on FMPs. This question has an added urgency as a result of the Government’s intention to accelerate the already rapid expansion of offshore wind. There is no reference in the JFS as to how marine spatial planning could be done better.
There is no discussion about how to create positive incentives and avoid creating incentives that run contrary to management objectives.
There is potential to create great complexity: simplicity of fisheries regulation should be an important goal in itself
The reference to fishing capacity is welcome but sparse. Given that the balance between fishing capacity and available resources underpins sustainable (and profitable) fisheries management, this dimension/section requires further development
Co-management requires meaningful financial support and to date it is unclear where this would come from. An explicit understanding of the costs involved would be a good place to start. An understanding of the terms of engagement between fisheries administrators, fisheries scientists and the relevant fisheries stakeholders would also be required. Terms of Reference for FMPs will be necessary, but these would probably best be developed at the operational level and should avoid unnecessary rigidity.
The advantages of a diverse UK fleet could usefully be emphasised in the JFS
The JFS makes the assumption that seabed disturbance releases significant amounts of carbon although the underpinning science is contested and uncertain. This is probably related to the fact that the JFS was drafted during a period when an alarmist article published in Nature ( subsequently withdrawn because of a flawed peer review process) received undue publicity. A more nuanced reference should be considered
Fishing is a commercial activity and should be recognised as such. The whole value chain should be oriented towards customer needs and fisheries policy should explicitly make recognition of this important dimension.
Links between Objectives and Policy Areas
The colour coded links between the JFS, Fisheries Act objectives and relevant policy areas are confusing and contain some omissions, including bycatch/fisheries management and fishing opportunities and equal access
Displacement and Evidence
The consequences of displacement are mentioned but not dealt with in any depth in the JFS. It would be important that MPAs are reviewed periodically, as part of an evidence-based approach, to demonstrate that they are delivering the anticipated benefits.
All parties should be alert to the possibility of opportunist expansion of management jurisdictions as FMPs are developed. Empire-building by various management authorities can be expected and it is important that management structures are not unduly swayed by self-interested interventions
Funding for the Evidence Base
It is not sufficient to merely say that policy should be informed by evidence. Funding for adequate scientific/evidence/data underpinning for FMPs should be budgeted for adequately in future spending rounds.
We support the broad thrust of the draft JFS and recognise that it outlines policy directions rather than policy detail. Nevertheless, the draft text raises important questions that we have tried to address and suggest constructive ways forward.
The question of balance is an important one and we would question whether the role of food security is given sufficient attention. The JFS should explicitly address how the management of our fisheries is resilient to current and future shocks