Fishing Industry Views Brought to the Heart of the Conservation Agenda

30th May 2013 in Sustainability / Environment

At the request of the Norwegian Government, the NFFO has presented the fishing industry’s views to what many regard as the temple of conservation – the Trondheim conference on biodiversity.

The conference is hosted by the Norwegian Government, in cooperation with the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (SCBD), the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

In the past we have seen many conservation initiatives emerge from such high level conferences and so it is absolutely essential that fishermen’s views are heard where and when it counts.

The NFFO was able to reinforce the point that sustainable use of the marine environment rather than a purist environmental agenda should be the goal for fisheries managers, environmentalists, and the fishing industry together.

We were also able to make the point that passing legislation is one thing but successful implementation of conservation measures is something else. The history of the Common Fisheries Policy until recently has been one in which all the emphasis has been on the former, with insufficient attention to the latter.

Measures are most successful when they are considered legitimate by the people to which they apply. Achieving this in fisheries requires a collaborative approach through industry participation in the design of measures and good information on which to base the measures. The Federation was able to describe to the conference the many positive initiatives than make this collaboration a reality. Including:

  • Fisheries Science Partnerships
  • The work of the regional advisory councils
  • Precise mapping of fishing activity using fishermen’s own electronic plotter data

The full text of the NFFO’s presentation is reproduced below:

Trondheim Conference on Biodiversity

Marrying fisheries and environmental concerns

A Fishing Industry Perspective

Barrie Deas

National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations

Good afternoon.

My task today is to provide you with an appreciation, from a fishing industry perspective, of the concerns and challenges that an ecosystem approach raises in terms of the integration of fisheries and environmental policy.

The fishing industry broadly recognises and accepts that fisheries must be embedded within a fully functioning ecosystem if it is to have a long term sustainable future. The pressures on commercial fish stocks (exploitation rate) must be managed but equally, the pressures on non-target species and habitats also must be contained.

I think that it is true to say that the principles and broad objectives in this regard are largely agreed. But the means of achieving them are often not agreed. And it is this that I would like to concentrate on today.

My experience is principally derived from the European Union’s Common Fisheries Policy but also the management fish stocks that are shared and jointly managed with countries like Norway.

Common Fisheries Policy and Environmental Protection

Many of you will be aware that fisheries management involves a challenging mix of biology, economics and politics. Within this context the CFP has become a byword for policy failure. Good intentions have repeatedly been difficult to translate into effective action. Although fishing mortality on a broad swath of socks has now been brought down’ this has been done in a rather chaotic and brutal way.

As society’s expectations have changed about what is acceptable (and not acceptable) in terms of the environmental impact of fishing, there has often been a clear disconnect between aspiration and delivery.

However, over the last fifteen years, I think that it is true to say that a shared analysis and emerging consensus has emerged towards resource management generally which understands that a top-down, command and control policy approach is unlikely to succeed. Trying to manage multiple, diverse, fisheries across many degrees of longitude and latitude through prescriptive micro-management is likely to fail to deliver its objectives. So we have learnt the hard way that passing a piece of legislation is one thing. Successful implementation is something else.

In addition other lessons have been learnt which in recent years has required a shift in focus from:

  • Managing commercial fish stocks on a single stock basis,
  • Towards a broader understanding of the dynamics and challenges of managing mixed fisheries,
  • To managing fisheries by taking into account species interactions
  • To a full ecosystem approach which understands fishing in its broadest context.

Some progress has been made but most scientists and policy makers, and certainly the fishing industry, recognise that even in the first steps towards these objectives, this work are in their infancy.

The other strand in this picture arises from EU environmental obligations (in particular the Marine Strategy Framework Directive and the Habitats Directive) which place obligations on member states to achieve good environmental status including protection for vulnerable marine sites and species. The wheels are now turning to implement this legislation by agreeing and applying operational programmes.

Within these programmes, there is still some room for discussion about how the concept maximum sustainable yield can be applied in mixed fisheries; and whether a stock structure within a dynamic system can be measured, let alone controlled. Nevertheless, there is, I think, a broad consensus that it is wise to fish stocks in the region of MSY. Likewise there is broad agreement that it is sensible to ensure that a good proportion of fish reach sexual maturity. Similarly, there would be few who think that the integrity of the seabed is not a matter of concern.

In other words there might still be some manoeuvring about precise definitions on these questions but not the fundamentals.

It is not therefore the destinations that have been controversial but rather the means for achieving those objectives.

CFP Reform and Environmental Sustainability

The EU Court of Auditors has not been the only body to criticise (mistakenly in my view) the failure of EU fisheries policy as just a failure of political will. I think the Prof. Elstrom was correct when she said that resource management is much more likely to succeed when those resources are in the hands of those which depend on them. Of course, in the context of a resource like European fisheries, in which the scale can be large and where ownership is shared between different countries, this type of management is much more challenging than in a small scale unit where all the players are known to each other. But there have been significant developments. I would like to discuss three:

  • Regional advisory councils (stakeholders organised at the regional seas scale)
  • Fisheries science partnerships (where scientists work closely with the fishing industry)
  • Modern communication technology (from CCTV to plotter data linked to seabed mapping)

Regional Advisory Councils

The scale (regional seas), the composition (all relevant stakeholders) and purpose (to provide decision-makers with informed advice on fisheries management issues – puts RACs in a strategically pivotal position to shape policy formation – even more so with the greater regionalisation anticipated within a reformed CFP.

Fisheries Science Partnerships

FSPs of all shapes and sizes have blossomed over the last 15 years and fishermen and their representatives can be found engaged with scientists at the highest levels of ICES, likewise scientists, working collaboratively aboard fishing vessels, is quiet common now.

Modern Communication Technology

It is now possible to find fishing vessels in a number of member states which have voluntarily installed CCTV cameras to monitor catches and to confirm that discard levels are minimal. Whilst avoiding a big brother approach, it is possible to use various different kinds remote sensing to provide fully documented fisheries and to therefore as a quid pro quo, remove much of the prescriptive micro-management through insanely detailed legislation that have hampered our efforts.

What all this amounts to is a revolution in governance. It is a revolution that is only partially complete and it is both possible that it can regress or it move forward rapidly.

It is my contention that this revolution lays the foundations for a much more effective integration of fisheries and environmental objectives because fundamentally it leads to different types of collaboration at different scales and spatial levels and therefore the realization of Olstrom’s ideals.

For example:

  • Using very precise electronic plotter data provided by the skippers of fishing vessels fishing activity can be mapped with great accuracy. This is of critical importance to ensure that marine protected areas are in the right place to protect vulnerable marine ecosystems and features. (But it requires a high degree of cooperation to obtain this commercially sensitive data)
  • Collaboration can address data deficiencies and strengthen the accuracy of fish stock assessments and therefore their credibility in the eyes of fishermen (RAC initiatives)
  • Progress can be made in reducing discards by aligning economic incentives with management objectives and working collaboratively, fishery by fishery (This requires close collaboration)
  • Regional management offers the possibility, not just to apply measures that are tailored to the characteristics of the fleets, but to adopt an adaptive and responsive approach in which errors can be quickly rectified ( Fundamentally, regional management should be about the close collaboration of three groups: fisheries managers, fisheries scientists and fisheries stakeholders)
  • Multi-annual management plans developed collaboratively with stakeholder involvement throughout

So far as commercial stocks are concerned, in many ways we are moving to reversing the burden of proof in fisheries. If a vessel operator can demonstrate that its total catches are all accounted for and those catches are within the permitted mortality, there is scope to remove some of the for the immense burden of legislative micromanagement which burdens fishing and so often generates perverse outcomes -A win/win outcome.

But I believe that a collaborative approach can go beyond a relatively narrow fisheries management role and be equally relevant for example, for the designation of marine protected areas, where, as we have learnt displaced fishing activity can do more harm than good if not carefully managed.

Environmental Policy and Governance

The point I have been labouring here is that after two decades in which initiative after initiative in resource management in European fisheries delivered much less that hoped for, progress is now being made in putting fisheries management on a more rational basis.

The key is governance arrangements and the question posed in terms for the integration of fisheries and environmental legislation, is whether we have to learn through the same difficult process or whether we can fast forward to more successful delivery arrangements.

Olstrom’s concept of nested or concentric rings of responsibility seems particularly relevant here. Setting broad objectives and standards set at the European level through the democratic but cumbersome co-decision process has an undeniable logic and coherence. As an industry our (bitter) experience suggests that all content and delivery detail below this, on should be left to the regional level, or if possible lower levels; with the higher level limited to playing a monitoring or supervisory level.

Integrated multi-annual management plans, will provide the vehicle for fisheries management in the future and also for the integration of fisheries and environmental policy. But if these are simply laid down from on high we will face the same implementation problems as the current CFP has had to confront.

Regional management should help. Cooperation between member states with the close involvement of the regional advisory councils, in the development of long term plans is the key. And where stocks are shared, new ways of working ways of working with Third Countries like Norway, at regional seas level must be found.

But although getting the governance arrangements right is absolutely fundamental to an effective fisheries policy it is not the only challenge:

Fisheries scientists will be required to deliver advice not just on mixed fishery basis but taking into account multi species interactions. There will have to be trade-offs between environmental protection and the economic viability of the fleets; there will have to be trade-offs between the quotas set for different stocks to achieve an overall balance (which will be controversial because of the economic interests attached to the respective stocks).

Understanding Maximum Sustainable yield as a range of values on the effort /yield curve rather than as a fixed point will make these kind of trade-offs easier; as will addressing potential choke species by limiting the main TACs to only the economic driver species, with by-catch placed under a basket quota, in the way we do now with “Norway Others”.

We hope that taking this kind of approach, Good Environmental Status will be achieved in a pragmatic, incremental, proportionate and balanced fashion.

The danger however must be is that this will pragmatism will be overtaken again by the temptation to see central legislative control, backed by sufficient political will, as the solution. Having just been given co-decision powers there must be a temptation for the European Parliament to flex its muscles to resurrect micro-management.

And all this does not forget that aspects of these policies must be negotiated with Third Countries like Norway, especially in relation to setting TACs. In this regard the North Sea RAC has already made approaches to the Norwegian Fishermen’s Association to lay the foundations for future cooperation on the development of comprehensive long-term management plans which incorporate environmental concerns. The meeting was held only a few streets away from here and established shared concerns and issues.

This is a good example of the potential of a collaborative bottom up approach by comparison with the top-down command and control approach.

I leave you with this graph which illustrates the dramatic fall in fishing mortality (fishing pressure) across all of the main species groups in the North East Atlantic, with a clear turning point around the year 2000, after 70 years of incremental increases. There will be many intertwined causal factors to explain this trend. But certainly as far as the European Union component of these fisheries is concerned, I believe that the beginnings of a move to more effective models of governance, the development of fisheries science partnerships and the wider application of long-term management plans are important contributory factors.

Management measures will only be fully effective if they are perceived as legitimate by the stakeholders. This is not an optional extra. The history of the CFP has been a crisis in legitimacy. Having learnt this lesson in relation to the management of commercial fish stocks it is important that we use its insights in the complex task of building a fully integrated ecosystem approach.