NFFO WARNS OF ‘PERFECT STORM’ AT EU FISH COUNCIL
With the EU Fish Council to decide upon catching opportunity for 2019 scheduled to get underway in Brussels at the start of next week, the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations (NFFO) says a ‘perfect storm of regulations means that ministers face a number of unpalatable choices and trade-offs’.
In an article on its website, the NFFO says these conflicts include:
- Full implementation of the EU landing obligation (discard ban) from 1st January
- Setting total allowable catches consistent with achieving the MSY objective by 2020 for all harvested stocks
- Avoiding serious choke risks
- Meeting the EU objective of managing fisheries in a way that is consistent with long term sustainability and generating social and economic and employment benefits
- Basing TAC decisions on the most recent scientific advice, including advice for zero catch in specific fisheries
The NFFO says: “It is clear that not all these objectives can be achieved simultaneously, and so ministers must find a way through to the most reasonable trade-offs.
“Chokes could emerge with almost any stock, depending on changing scientific advice, whether TACs have been set at the right level or the rate of quota uptake. The stocks in which these conflicts are at their most acute, however, are:
- North Sea cod
- Celtic Sea haddock
- Irish Sea whiting
North Sea Cod
“After more than a decade in which low fishing mortality (pressure) has led to steady increases in the spawning stock biomass, lower than average recruitment and a change in the scientific perception of the stock has led to ICES advice for a 47% cut in the TAC. If fully implemented this reduction would make cod an acute choke risk for haddock, saithe and whiting and other economically important species. As a jointly managed stock, the EU and Norway will probably set the TAC with a lower level of reduction, possibly -33%. This will still present fisheries managers and the fishing industry with a choke risk during 2019.
“The TACs for North Sea joint stocks, were agreed at the EU/Norway negotiations held in Bergen and London which concluded on 7th December. The agreed TACs are as follows:
- Whiting: -22% reduction (MSY Approach).
- Cod: -33% (FMSY).
- Haddock: -31% (MSY approach).
- Saithe: +18% (MSY approach).
- Plaice: +11% (MSY approach).
- Herring: -35.9% (Fpa). The block between Denmark and Norway’s positions on cuts to the industrial bycatch fleet was eventually resolved with a smaller reduction being accepted and a working group established to discuss this further next year. The stock will be stepped back to MSY in 2020 instead of taking the full cut advised by ICES (-51%).
“There is an outstanding issue on whiting, relating to the scale of deduction relating to a de minimis exemption for part of the fleet. The magnitude of the Commission’s calculations are being challenged.
Celtic Sea Haddock/Cod
“Haddock in the Celtic sea is caught along with cod and whiting and a range of other species. Zero catch advice for cod means, if acted upon in management decisions, vessels would be immediately choked and have to cease fishing in the Celtic Sea. One solution that has been proposed is the introduction of a “Union quota” for cod in which bycatch quota is pooled for use of those who need it to avoid chokes. To date, however, there has been no consensus on how such a system should operate. Discussions continue on how to resolve this dilemma.
“The choke risk for haddock lies with the UK’s low quota share and a reduced TAC. The UK share of Celtic Sea haddock quota is 10%. The French share is 66% (although the bulk of the catch is made in UK waters). Industry has been working with scientists on enhanced selectivity but this multi-faceted problem will not be solved without a TAC set at a realistic level.
Irish Sea Whiting
“Historically there have been very high discards of whiting caught in the nephrop fishery because small whiting has a very low market value. There has been significant progress in introducing more selective fishing gear but whiting remains as a stubborn choke risk. This is a fishery in which the TAC serves no purpose and does not constrain fishing mortality. Against this background, the only solution appears to be the removal of TAC status or listing whiting as a prohibited species. Whichever of these options is taken, whiting will be returned to the sea in 2019.
Scientific Advice and Management Decisions
“It is important to understand the distinction between scientific advice, and management decisions, not least because there are individuals and organisations in the NGO community, who routinely suggest that any difference results from irresponsible ministers and industry pressures.
“In fact, ICES scientific advice is the basis for all TAC decisions but catch advice generally includes a range of options for managers to consider. Managers (in this case fisheries ministers) have a responsibility to balance this advice with a range of other responsibilities, including:
- Discard reduction and implementation of the landing obligation, including mitigation of choke risks
- The management of mixed fisheries, where a number of species are caught together and a TAC decision on one species has implications for others
- Socio-economic impacts (a staged approach to TAC reductions, where these are necessary, is a frequently used approach)
- Building stocks to deliver high average yields (usually understood in terms of maximum sustainable yield)
“It is important that these management responsibilities and the trade-offs that they necessarily entail are properly understood.”