This year’s autumn negotiations are especially critical as the main CFP policy drivers – maximum sustainable yield by 2015 (where possible) and automatic precautionary reductions where fisheries are deemed to be “data limited” – have led to proposals for huge quota reductions of between 20% and 60% in 2015. The recent closure of the Bristol Channel fisheries under the cumulative effect of successive quota reductions opens the realistic spectre of similar closures in other fisheries next year. The Federation’s primary role, given that the scientific assessments confirm the generally positive fishing mortality and stock trends in our main fisheries, is to oppose a fundamentalist application of the MSY timetable to TACs for 2015.
The NFFO has already met with Fisheries Minister, George Eustice, to express alarm at the implications of pursuing the MSY timetable and the Federation also played a prominent role in a recent stakeholder meeting with the Minister and devolved administrations in Belfast.
The Federation’s central messages at these meetings have been:
- The industry generally sees the sense in moving steadily and incrementally towards high-yield fisheries (bearing in mind that a steadily increasing number of stocks are already at MSY)
- However, the mounting evidence is that shoehorning all stocks into a dogmatic MSY timetable will have a serious unintended consequences, including:
Localised fleet collapses
Processors pushed into liquidation, with loss of processing jobs
Displaced fleets with knock-on effects in other areas/fisheries
Small vessels with limited range forced to tie up with their crews losing all income until the fishery opens again in January
- The experience of the Bristol Channel suggests that this outcome is the inevitable consequence of cumulative year-on-year quota reductions across a basket of stocks on which a local fleet depends
- The Bristol Channel is not an isolated example but potentially only the first in a list of casualties of cumulative quota reductions to fit the MSY timetable. We are approaching a tipping point.
- Government in its widest sense (EU and domestically) has paid insufficient attention to the cumulative socio-economic impact of successive TAC decisions
- If the Commission’s proposals (or anything approaching them) are applied, the experience of the Bristol Channel will be seen, as sure as night follows day, in other fisheries probably beginning in the South West and the South Coast, where some key stocks are facing huge reductions of up to 60%
A Rational Approach
A disinterested but informed outsider looking at the process of setting TACs for 2015, might conclude that:
- Since the year 2000, ICES science indicates that fishing pressure has been reduced dramatically across all the main species groups in the North East Atlantic, including those in EU waters
- Stocks have responded, and are responding, to that reduction in fishing mortality. The recovery is uneven. Some stocks are rebuilding rapidly, some more slowly, which is to be expected as after all, natural processes not just fishing is in the equation.
- In most of our fisheries these positive underlying stock and fishery trends will over time, lead to the high yield fisheries that we all aspire to
- As witnessed by the catastrophe unfolding in the Bristol Channel, it is entirely foreseeable that the essentially arbitrary timetable to achieve MSY by 2015, along with an equally fundamentalist approach to data limited stocks, will generate serious socio-economic casualties unless ministers intervene.
- The CFP regulation allows some flexibility to allow ministers to depart from the MSY timetable for socio-economic reasons
- We require a realistic and proportionate management strategy for TACs for 2015 that would continue the progress that has been made so far in rebuilding our stocks but would step very carefully where fishing business and communities are vulnerable to collapse due to their dependence on stocks that have seen successive, cumulative quota reductions
- As well as continuing our journey to optimum high yield fisheries, a fully rounded management strategy for 2015 would base TAC decisions on:
Mixed fishery considerations
Whether the decision will result in a reduction in fishing mortality or just an increase in discards
Socio-economic considerations, not just in relation to this or that single stock, but in relation to the totality of fishing opportunities to a specific fleet
It is undeniable that the environmental lobby is now a significant force at play in all major fishing policy decisions and they tend to be especially vocal around the time when TAC decisions are made. The NGOs certainly were influential in shaping the CFP reform to include a mandatory obligation to base TAC decisions on achieving MSY by 2015. And we can expect their ritual denunciation of ministers who take into account mixed fishery and socio-economic consequences as part of their decisions.
What is less clear is what the NGO’s attitude will be to the unfolding consequences of following their policy, and in particular the forced timetable to MSY. When business casualties are seen, right across the fleet, affecting small artisanal fleets as well as larger vessels, will they still be urging ministers to move further and faster to implement MSY?