NFFO Summit: The Future of Shellfish Policy

16th October 2014 in Shellfish, Shellfish

A summit of fishermen, regulators, scientists and other stakeholders was held recently in the impressive surroundings of the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich

NFFO Summit: The Future of Shellfish Policy

Policy Drivers and Policy Inertia

Scene setting presentations were made by:

  • CEFAS scientists, who provided an understanding of the current knowledge base on which policy decisions are made
  • DEFRA policy officials, who situated current Government policy within the major EU policy drivers such as the Marine Strategy Framework Directive and CFP, MSY obligations and the landings obligation
  • The Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authorities, who provided an overview of the initiatives on shellfish being taken regionally within the 6 mile limit
  • Shellfish Association of Great Britain, which summarised the history and frustrations in securing effective management measures for shellfish over 20 years
  • The NFFO, which outlined the progress that had been made within the industry in defining a way forward for the crab and lobster fisheries, including:

A cap on the over-15m high volume crab fishery as a first step in dealing with latent capacity

Regionalised technical measures

An incremental step-wise approach, rather than grandiose national schemes which never reach take-off speed

Towards a Shared understanding

The very rich and sometimes boisterous dialogue which characterised the summit was an inevitable reflection of the wide mix of key players together in a room, discussing a subject on which passions can run deep. Inescapably, a wide range of opinions was expressed on different aspects of the shell fisheries. Nevertheless, three key issues surfaced above the others:

  • Knowledge Base for Management Decisions
  • Regionalised Measures
  • Policy inertia in beginning to deal with latent capacity

Knowledge Base for Management Decisions

There was agreement that there is an urgent need for a long-term mechanism to involve fishermen in the collection of data relevant to the effective and tailored management of the shell fisheries. The science base has come a long way in recent years but is still an equally long way from providing the definitive advice and insights that are the necessary foundations for sound management decisions. DEFRA is working on this question but it will be for the industry itself to take the initiative. There are already examples of good practice and modern information technology can provide the means for effective but non-intrusive monitoring of fishing activities. There are important questions about what data is collected; who collects it; who owns the data; and what conditions are associated with its use. This will be the subject of intense discussion in the coming weeks.

Regionalised Measures

There is widespread agreement that the top-down, one size fits all, approach to fisheries management is even more inappropriate for shellfish fisheries than for finfish fisheries.

The inshore management authorities clearly have a central role in adopting and tailoring management approaches to the specific characteristics of their fisheries. It was clear from the meeting, however, that there can be considerable differences between IFCAs in their approaches to transparency and participative decision making. If regionalised measures are to be well-designed and broadly accepted, those IFCAS still wedded to “mini-top-down” management will have to accept that this outdated approach is likely to yield sub-optimal outcomes.

Policy inertia in beginning to deal with latent capacity

The NFFO and others in the shellfish industry first proposed a cap on the capacity of the high-volume crab fleet in 2011. This was not seen as a panacea but as a first step in an incremental process of dealing with latent capacity and effective management measures for the pot fisheries. DEFRA has variously ignored, questioned, prevaricated and dodged the issue but it has never been very clear why. Ministers have referred it to officials, who have shuffled the issue around creating an impression of policy inertia. Yet here is a policy that has the backing of the people affected and support within the wider industry, that makes sense in conservation and economic terms that if adopted would head off a range of future problems. It is somewhat of a mystery why this single proposal has failed to make headway but it has undoubtedly become a logjam for a range of other progressive initiatives in shellfish policy.

Landings Obligation

At first sight, the EU landings obligation would have less of an impact on the crab and lobster pot fisheries that the whitefish or pelagic fisheries that operate under TAC limits. However, the unintended consequences of management decisions is always a very real danger in fisheries and there is valid concern that the economic pressures generated by the forthcoming discard ban could impact on the pot fisheries as fishermen whose business models have been made unviable by the ban seek to remain in fishing by shifting across to shellfish. The EU cod recovery plans had exactly this effect on the transfer of fishing effort from the whitefish to the nephrops fishery. This potential danger was in the minds of all those in the summit as they discussed the future of the sector.

Summary

This summit provided a powerful wake-up call for the industry, regulators and scientists alike. The pot fisheries enjoy a number of important advantages, but if this economically vital sector is to avoid sleep-walking into a host of new problems it will need to address:

  • Problems of managing the fisheries on the basis of limited data
  • Regional management authorities which ought to be closer to the fisheries that they manage but in some cases cling to the old discredited closed, top-down styles
  • Inertia in shellfish policy that has held progress in a vice-like grip, especially in dealing with the high-volume part of the industry, where a start should be made immediately.