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An important workshop was held recently in Dublin to make progress on the design and implementation of effective management measures for seabass. The impetus for the meeting came from the poor scientific outlook for the stock in recent ICES scientific advice and the evident need for additional management measures. A combination of poor recruitment and relatively high fishing mortality has given cause for concern.
Although placing a TAC on bass has been mooted, the overwhelming opinion amongst member states and the advisory councils has been that placing bass under quota would cause more problems than it would solve, not least because a significant portion of the mortality on bass is related to recreational angling, which would not be affected by a TAC approach. Equally, the looming discard ban would be made more rather than less complicated if bass was a TAC species. For all these reasons the search is on for an alternative way to rebuild bass stocks and this was the focus and purpose of the workshop.
The meeting was jointly organised by the North Sea, North Western Waters and South West Waters advisory councils. Scientists, member states, Commission officials and stakeholders were invited, with the hope and aspiration that an airing of the issues from a variety of perspectives would help us to define a way forward.
The bulk of the day was taken up with presentations by the main participants to ensure that all perspectives were given an airing and could be taken into account.
After ICES and STECF science on bass had been outlined, and the Commission had brought the meeting up to date on its thinking, member states, recreational anglers, the environmental NGOs, and a range of industry organisations provided different perspectives.
The Commission made clear that if a TAC approach was adopted as a default or last resort, it was likely to reflect the obligation to achieve a fishing mortality consistent with MSY by 2015, where possible. If this was done in one year it would amount to a 60% reduction in catches. The Commission intended to come forward with a proposal for initial measures by the end of the year.
Towards Advisory Council Advice
In the final session, an attempt was made by the meeting to synthesise the outcome of the meeting into a programme of work that will deliver coherent and useful advice from the advisory councils. A decision will be required whether that advice comes separately from the three ACs, or whether a joint position is adopted.
The meeting agreed:
- To work towards a shared understanding of the conservation status and main trends in the bass fisheries. Without a shared understanding of the fundamentals it is very difficult to get agreement on a way forward
- That, ideally, AC advice would be in two stages: immediate measures and a longer term management plan
- To set out some general principles for an approach. These could include:
- All sources of fishing mortality must be addressed
- Proportionality between the adoption of measures that will rebuild the stock effectively, whilst maintaining the socio-economic fabric of those dependent on the fishery
- An acknowledgement that there are three main contributions to fishing mortality which must be addressed in a broadly proportionate way if there is to be agreement on a package of measures
*30% targeted bass fishery
*30% recreational fishery for bass
*40% bycatch in mixed demersal fishery
- AC advice would take into account that like a 60% reduction in catch is required to build the bass stock to levels consistent with maximum sustainable yield
- A managed reduction in catches within a realistic timeframe is required
- Improvements in selectivity and protection for spawning aggregations will both be part of the picture
- There must be a focus on improving conditions as far as possible for the recruitment and survival of juvenile bass
- There must be an understanding of the impact of management measures
- Account should be taken of the effectiveness of existing EU and member state management measures
- Account should be taken of enforcement and control issues in all parts of the fishery
A number of candidate measures are under consideration:
- Vessel or fishery catch limits
- Spatial or temporal closures
- Mandatory Catch and Release
- Bag limits for recreational anglers
- Capacity limits
- Effort control (days at sea constraints)
- Each of these candidate measures have more or less relevance depending on which of the three main sources of mortality on the bass stock it is applied to. The aim should be to find some broad equivalence of sacrifice in order to achieve the necessary reduction in catches required to meet the mortality target.
- Each participant in the workshop would be invited to submit in writing, their opinion on the pros and cons of each candidate measure. This would be an important first step towards defining a consensus position; in the event that a consensus is not achievable this information would at least provide a strengthened base on which to make informed management decisions
- A small drafting group will be convened to analyse the responses, assess the options and prepare draft advice. The drafting group will include representatives of the main interest groups and will make recommendations on:
*Appropriate measures to be adopted immediately in relation to each of the main sources of mortality on bass (targeted, recreational and bycatch)
*A timetable for adoption consistent with both the urgency of the situation and amelioration of the socio-economic impacts of the measures
*An outline long-term management plan for sea bass consistent with CFP obligations
*Observations on means to achieve high compliance with the measures adopted across all three sources of mortality
There is no doubting the seriousness of the current conservation status of the bass stock or the complexity of the management challenge facing the fishery. Few consider that a knee jerk TAC approach would do anything other than make the situation worse. Against this background the meeting defined a stepwise approach which, within a very short timeframe, will either deliver consensus advice, or failing that, a strengthened knowledge-base on which the Commission and member states might make informed decisions. The meeting again confirmed the extreme utility of this kind of forum, where scientists, policy-makers and fisheries stakeholders come together to pool their knowledge and perspectives to define a way forward through difficult and complex issues.