Commission Double Standards on RAC Advice

13th July 2009 in Advisory Councils

Shifting goal posts and weak assessments cripple ICES advice

At its most recent working group meetings, the North West Regional Advisory Council was told by the European Commission that its advice would only be accepted if it was based on hard evidence.

“This is to apply breathtaking double standards”, said Barrie Deas, NFFO Chief Executive. “The effort regime now afflicting whole the fleets in the North Sea, Irish Sea and West of Scotland was introduced with absolutely no evidence that it would deliver, or even contribute to, cod recovery. A serious body of scientific opinion believes that restrictions on time at sea actually intensifies fishing activity. The Commission has made no attempt to establish whether days at sea have had, or could have, any effect on fishing mortality. This is a faith based rather than an evidence based approach”.

There is now a catalogue of measures that have been put in place without the slightest attempt to establish whether they are fit for purpose. Measure after measure has been layered one over another without much anxiety about evidence. The most recent – a ban on high-grading - actually conflicts with the EC rules that require vessels to discard to meet catch composition rules. This a perfect example of a measure, introduced in a hurry, with no attempt to provide evidence to justify it.”

“We in the RACs are very conscious of the need to provide evidence based advice but we are in no mood to be lectured by the Commission on this issue.”

The NWWRAC met in Paris and four Working Groups – Celtic Sea, Irish Sea, Channel and West of Scotland reviewed the latest ICES advice. A common theme in the science was the frequent inability of ICES to provide convincing stock assessments due to uncertainties and poor data. Major changes to the scientists’ perception of some stocks (as opposed to material changes in the stocks), is an important feature of this year’s advice, particularly in relation to cod and nephrops and western channel sole. This is of concern because the ICES benchmark meetings were supposed to usher in a way in which industry information would be integrated into the ICES assessments but are proving to be a disruptive feature, increasing rather than reducing uncertainties.

The Federation will be pursuing the issues raised by the ICES advice at a meeting with the European Commission in late July and through a series of meetings with UK fisheries administration to define UK positions for the December Council of Ministers.