This was a different kind of December Council in a number of important ways. Many delegations…
Dealing with 'Random and Sporadic Recruitment Spikes': Newlyn Meeting
During a brief lull in the gales battering Cornwall last week, an important meeting was organised by the Cornish Fish Producers Organisation to address the severe problems facing the demersal fisheries in the Celtic Sea. The meeting was attended by CEFAS scientists, DEFRA and MMO officials, along with the CFPO, NFFO and a strong attendance of affected skippers from vessels of all sizes and methods.
A proposal to cut the haddock quota by 75% was mitigated in December to a reduction of 33% for 2014. But proposals for a further big cut could be in the pipeline for 2015.
Although the broad trends in the Celtic Sea are positive and consistent with those for the whole NE Atlantic (fishing mortality has fallen dramatically since 2000 and the number of stocks reaching MSY is increasing steadily every year), the appearance of huge populations of haddock on the South West grounds, where they had not been prevalent in recent years presents a major management problem.
Haddock, as a species, is renowned for "random and sporadic recruitment spikes", the reasons for which are probably environmental and are imperfectly understood. Welcome though the availability of this resource undoubtedly is, it presents a nightmare to manage in the context of the ultra-mixed fisheries in the Celtic Sea. Setting a quota in multi-species, multi-gear and multi-jurisdiction fisheries is always a challenge but the mix of factors in the Celtic Sea makes management uniquely tricky. The impending discard ban adds an extra layer of urgency.
TAC, Stronger Science and a Proactive Approach
The mitigated reduction in Total Allowable Catch for 2014 came with a commitment to develop new technical measures to reduce quota-driven discards - and this was the core subject of this very well attended meeting.
Predicting the size of incoming recruitment is one of the more challenging aspects of stock assessments but the meeting recognised that a proactive approach is needed if widespread discarding and more brutal measures are to be avoided.
The meeting therefore agreed to:
- Work with CEFAS scientists to strengthen understanding of incoming recruitment and the spatial and temporal distribution of haddock stocks
- Immediately develop a robust industry data-collection scheme on board the vessels to strengthen the information base for future management decisions, including the discard ban (which kicks in for these fisheries in January 2016.)
- Work with scientists on the design and immediate implementation of a fisheries science partnership project to define gear adaptations which would reduce catches of size grades 4 and 5 (smallest but adult) as well as any residual catch below the minimum landing size
- Work with the authorities and fishermen in other member states to ensure the adoption of at least equivalent measures
- Work within the context of the North West Waters RAC, and the new regionalised CFP, to develop a mixed fishery plan for the Celtic Sea that would address the biological realities of "random and sporadic recruitment spikes"
There is no disguising the difficulties in managing this issue but the Newlyn meeting demonstrated perfectly what can be achieved when fishermen, scientists and managers sit down and work together. The hope is that this way of dealing with undoubtedly difficult issues will now replace the top-down dictat from Brussels, which in the past has almost invariably led to blunt and inappropriate measures.
This meeting, so early in 2014, sets the scene for the implementation of discard reduction measures during the year, a more constructive approach for 2015 and preparation for the landings obligation in 2016.