Economics and Fishing Policy

12th February 2016 in Europe / Common Fisheries Policy

The Common Fisheries Policy has to date been driven almost exclusively by conservation priorities. The time has come to think about how to integrate economic thinking into CFP policy, to better achieve the principal objectives of the CFP. These are to ensure that fishing … “activities….are environmentally sustainable in the long term and ….consistent with the objectives of achieving economic, social and employment benefits, and of contributing to the availability of food supplies.” (Article 2.1 of the CFP Basic Regulation. 1380/2013)

Economics and Fishing Policy

It was for this reason that the European Commission recently organised a major conference in Malta, attended by Commissioner Vella, Director General João Aguiar Machado and other senior Commission officials, along with wide range of stakeholders.

Conservation and Economics

In his opening remarks Commissioner Vella observed that environmental priorities had for a number of years been accepted by policy makers and fisheries stakeholders as central to their thinking; but the same could not be said about an acceptance of the importance of economics by the environmental lobby. There was some way to go on this. He dismissed the usual attempt to balance environmental and economic dimensions, in favour of integrating both into policy. Often this was a matter of dealing with short-term costs to secure long term gains.

Landings Obligation

Much was made during the conference about the comparatively weak collection and use of economic data in decision-making and the absence of a proper system for undertaking meaningful impact assessments before major regulatory changes. The landings obligation was repeatedly referred to, not just as the biggest challenge currently facing European fisheries but a complete step into the dark, especially in terms of its economic impact across a wide spread of fisheries.

Following a description of the fisheries management system in the United States, it was observed by the NFFO that:

United States has:

• A mandatory timetable for stocks to be managed at maximum sustainable yield

• Quotas that are applied to all commercial species

• No discard ban

Norway has:

• Successful resource policies that in the main deliver high yields

• Quotas are applied to a relatively narrow range of individual species

• Norway has a discard ban

The European Union is attempting:

• A mandatory timetable to manage all fisheries at MSY

• Quotas are applied to a comparatively wide number of species including those caught as bycatch

• The EU is in the process of introducing a comprehensive landings obligation/discard ban to all quota species

The point was made that the approach being attempted by the EU would inevitably produce the potential for a large number of chokes, as the exhaustion of one quota in a mixed fishery would theoretically close down all fishing for that vessel, management unit, or member state. This reflection led the head of NOOA, the US fisheries administration, to observe that what the EU was attempting “seems quite extreme.”

Small-Scale Fisheries

The importance of well-managed small-scale fisheries was accepted by the conference as an important source of food and employment, although the definition of what constitutes “small-scale” is very variable and always depends on the context.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation and others in the conference made the point that it was not axiomatic that small-scale equalled low impact. There were examples where small-scale fisheries had exhausted local resources. Neither were small scale fisheries were not immune from technological advance. It was important to understand what is happening in each fishery and to avoid simplistic generalisations.

Rights -based management systems seem to generate good stewardship but require hard decisions on who to allocate those rights to in the first place and, by implication, who should be excluded from those rights. At one extreme it was suggested that once government allocates such rights, it should back off from all but a minimalist approach to fisheries regulation; on the other hand, others argued for allocation of fisheries rights on non-economic criteria, which would of necessity imply a permanent semi-dependence relationship between state and fishery and the continuation of detailed prescription from above. For most, this was not an either/or decision but how to strike the right balance between economic efficiency and protecting features considered societally important.

To date, the debate on the future management of small-scale fisheries has been impoverished by a narrow focus, and selective use and mis-use of statistics. If we are to move to a clear-eyed, effective, fair and rational approach to managing small-scale fisheries, it will be important to address these macro-scale issues as well as understanding the dynamics of each individual fishery. This implies a focus on:

• Fleet developments over time

• The balance between quota and non-quota fisheries

• Quota management and quota distribution issues

• How to define a de minimis “low impact” fleet, if this is to be treated differently from the rest of the industry

• An awareness of the implications of drawing arbitrary lines through the fleet, creating differential conditions and economic incentives

• All the factors, affecting sustainable fishing in inshore waters including fleet capacity, technological developments, access issues and an appropriate management regime

At present in England, the U.K. or Europe, there is no forum in which these issues can be addressed rationally and in the round. In this vacuum, assertions, counter-assertions, legal challenges, and superficial and frequently misleading commentary in the media and blogosphere, ricochets around, leading, at best, to stuttering ad-hoc political interventions with no comprehensive or comprehensible strategy. Mostly it is just hot air.

If this conference stimulates a shift away from the superficial to a more rigorous approach to managing small-scale fisheries it will have performed an important service.

Conclusion

This was an important conference which may signal a significant change in direction away from a dominance of an exclusively conservation focus, to one in which twin environment and economic objectives are considered together. There is some way to go.