2012 - A critical year ahead

5th January 2012 in Europe / Common Fisheries Policy

All the signs are that 2012 will be a pivotal year for the fishing industry.

The reform of the CFP and the review of the EU Cod Management Plan are two developments this year with a huge capacity on their own to shape our future – for either good or ill.

At the same time, during the course of the next 12 months it is likely that important decisions will be made in domestic fisheries policy. The shape of the concordat between Defra and the devolved administrations will be revealed at some stage, and there will be further steps to resolution of the difficulties facing parts of the under-10 metre fleet. We expect also that there will be progress in the implementation of a new approach to managing the shellfisheries. These will all bring impacts - but for better or worse remains to be seen. At the same time the industry will have to continue to deal with huge new developments such as the establishment of a network marine protected areas and massive offshore wind-farms which both have the capacity to displace fishing activity from its customary grounds.

There are some who believe that our future is largely preordained and shaped by bigger forces than our relatively small but still important industry. But that is to surrender before the fight has begun. The NFFO will be found throughout the coming year alongside our friends and allies at the heart of all of these issues, arguing for rational, fair and evidence-based policies consistent with a profitable and sustainable future.

One way in which the future can be better than the recent past is by developing and implementing well-thought-through long-term management plans. With a destination in sight and the means to get there agreed, much of the heat can be taken out of TAC decisions and steady progress can be made in building stocks. The North Sea RAC will be continuing its work on a long term management plan for nephrops and the North Western Waters RAC will be building on foundations already laid on the development of a multi-annual plan for the mixed demersal fisheries in the Celtic Sea.

Given that many of the more knotty problems in fisheries management arise from the multi-species and multi-gear character of many of our fisheries, the RACs also have the intention of organising a conference this year on mixed- fisheries. This should provide a useful platform for building these and other management plans.

Beyond the complexities of the demersal fisheries, lies the difficult and sometimes treacherous international political landscape of the pelagic fisheries. Above all else is the need to bring to an end the present period of turbulence in the mackerel fishery before lasting damage is done to the stocks.

The December Council was instructive as the first time that the fishing industry argued, along with member state for the implementation of ICES scientific recommendations, and against the Commission’s hard line, dogmatic proposals. This did not happen out of the blue and reflects a changing relationship between the fishing industry and fisheries scientists that is emerging from fisheries science partnerships of various kinds and a strong dialogue inside and outside the RACS. In many respects this points to the future: the key question will be to what extent even a reformed CFP will trap us within the same old adversarial roles or to what extent the industry will be liberated to work with scientists, fisheries managers and other stakeholders to define its own way forward.