New Generation Fisheries Management Plans

11th May 2012 in Advisory Councils

The snowy wastes of Svalbard, well inside the Arctic Circle recently hosted an important meeting on the future of EU/Norway management plans. The NFFO was represented at the meeting through the North Sea RAC.

The current generation of EU/Norway management plans - for cod, for haddock, for saithe and for herring - are an undoubted improvement on ad hoc annual decisions on TACs and other management measures. A lot of the heat is taken out of annual TAC decisions if they are made according to agreed principles settled beforehand.Nevertheless, the existing plans were pretty much handed down from on high with minimal involvement by the fishing industry and other stakeholders; and they amount to a fairly crude set of harvest control rules. The experience of the current plans has convinced many in the EU/Norway negotiation process that a more participative approach to the development of future long term management plans is required. There is also a growing realisation that plans for single stocks made without reference to the multi-species and multi-gear dimensions of many of our fisheries, means that the plans are less likely to achieve their objectives. The meeting in Svalbard was designed to identify a range of factors that need to be taken into account in the development of a new generation of management plans.

The next step will be a meeting between EU and Norway to frame proposals which will go to ICES scientists for evaluation.

Involvement of Stakeholders

There appears to have been a very significant change of heart in both EU and Norwegian camps about the involvement of the fishing sector and other stakeholders in the development of the plans. The compartmentalisation of managers, stakeholders and scientists (at least on the EU side) that meant that the fishing industry was always kept at arm’s length appears to be on the way out, to be replaced by a more inclusive process. The advantages are seen as:

  • industry knowledge will help to deal with the complexities of mixed fisheries
  • Plans developed with the involvement of the industry are likely to have the 'buy-in' that will help in their implementation, especially in avoiding the unintended consequences that have hampered some of the 1st generation plans, and in particular the management plan for North Sea cod.
  • It is far from clear what an ecosystem approach or a multi-species approach will look like in practice but given that the new plans will be much broader in scope it will be important to go beyond traditional sources of knowledge: all of the main groups, managers, scientists and stakeholders have something to contribute and no one group has a monopoly of knowledge.

Time will tell if the aspirations for a new approach expressed in Svalbard will be realised. But the need for a more inclusive approach in the EU /Norway process is aligned with the stated direction of CFP reform, as it is with the integration of fisheries policy and environment policy.The Federation will continue to be centrally involved in these discussions as they ultimately have very direct and significant implications for fishing opportunities and the conditions under which our quotas may be caught.

High yields from fisheries over a long period, within safe and sustainable levels of exploitation, are a desirable objective. However, in multi-species fisheries this may involve tradeoffs to protect vulnerable stocks and species and this new generation of management plans will have to develop ways of dealing with these tricky problems. Scientists can evaluate management measures and provide catch options but ultimately these will be value judgements and as such best taken with a high degree of stakeholder participation.MSY

It is curious that at the same time that the Commission has proposed that all EU fisheries should be managed to maximum sustainable yield as a legal obligation, no one amongst the managers, industry representatives or scientists present at the meeting seemed to think that this was a practical or realistic policy option for mixed or multi-species fisheries. Whilst, with the notable exception of cod, many North Sea fisheries have fishing mortalities that are in the vicinity of MSY, there is a broad recognition that these complex fisheries must be managed in a pragmatic and flexible way without diluting the need to stick to a plan once it is agreed. Thinking through scenarios in which a fishery might depart from its anticipated trajectory and building in management options to cover this eventuality seems to be one of the ways in which the problem of flexibility within a plan might be obtained.