Port Meetings Validate Long-term Plan

28th September 2010 in Advisory Councils, Shellfish

The North Sea Regional Advisory Council is well through its programme of port visits to discuss its draft long-term management plan for nephrops with vessel operators in the prawn fishery.

This is a pioneering initiative to ensure that the RAC’s advice on a long term management plan is developed with close engagement of grass-roots fishers. Port meetings with fishers have been held in Whitley Bay/North Shields, Fraserburgh, Eyemouth, and most recently Pittenweem. Further meetings in the Netherlands and Denmark will complete the first round of discussions.

This is the first time an international exercise in close grass roots stakeholder engagement has been attempted and already it is clear that a huge number of useful and relevant comments have been made; these will now be taken into account as final drafts of the RAC’s advice are prepared.

The long-term plan is centred on three main objectives:

  • A sustainable fishery – in terms of present and future harvesting of the nephrops stocks
  • A profitable fishery – generating sufficient revenue to renew the fleet without subsidy and providing crews with a reasonable income
  • An ecologically balanced fishery– where ecological impacts are within limits broadly acceptable to wider society

What has come across strongly from the meetings so far is a core of common concerns, as well as the diversity within the nephrops fishery. Concerns that have been voiced include:

  • Blunt management measures applied at both EU and national levels that do more harm than good and frequently fail to achieve their objectives
  • The implications of nephrops as “the fishery of last resort” as vessels attempt to escape punitive measures in the whitefish fisheries by focussing their efforts on the prawn fisheries.
  • The vulnerability of some nephrops fisheries to periodic high levels of effort
  • The low price of prawns at certain times of the year, often resulting from seasonal over-supply
  • Transitional support to help the fleets adapt to the a long-term plan based on some proxy for maximum sustainable yield

Functional Units

Without doubt, the issue of most immediate concern at the meetings has been ICES advice that management of the nephrops stocks should in future be applied at functional unit level rather than at North Sea level; and that this should mean TACs are set at functional unit level (for example, Fladdens, Moray Firth, Firth of Forth or Farn Deeps) rather than as at present aggregated into a single North Sea quota.

There appears from comments made at the meeting, to be broad acceptance that proportionate and targeted measures should be applied to those functional units showing signs of over-exploitation; however, it is also felt, firstly, that local fleets with limited range require protection, and secondly the flexibility to transfer effort between functional units is a valuable facility both in economic and conservation terms which should not be lightly thrown away.

Amongst the suggested targeted tools that could be used to rebuild depleted nephrops stocks in particular functional units, were an “of which” quota, sensitively applied, reinforced by particular gear or vessel restrictions.

The meetings considered that worst option because of the complexity and rigidity it would bring was functional unit TACs.

Stable Stocks and the Long-term Plan

The stability that characterises most nephrops stocks in the North Sea, and how to maintain that stability whilst maximising fishing opportunities for the fleets, will be a major feature of the long-term management plan. The port meetings have contributed many ideas on how this balance could be achieved.

The draft plan now being discussed in the ports has been put together with the involvement of fisheries scientists, fisheries economists, fish processors and environmentalists. In many respects it is a ground-breaking initiative but one thing is certain: it will not be the last long-term plan. The EU is committed to moving European fisheries away from a perpetual cycle of crisis management and long-term plans are the chosen means to achieve this. The choice is not long-term plan or no long-term plan. It is a long-term plan developed with the involvement of stakeholders, or a long-term plan devised and applied from above with the usual cosmetic consultation.

The NSRAC has elected to go for the former and the signal coming from the port meetings is that this was the right decision. Fishers are more than willing to provide their detailed input if the right means to do this is made available.