Stocks Outlook: State of Fish Stocks in European Waters

2nd October 2012 in Europe / Common Fisheries Policy, TACs and Quotas

The annual seminar organised by the Commission which marks the beginning of the autumn negotiations on TACs and quotas for the coming year was held recently in Brussels.

The event is useful as a means of assessing the Commission’s priorities, reviewing the main features of this year’s scientific advice and assessing the Commission’s own “Communication” on how it intends to approach its proposal for the TACs and Quotas Regulation. It also provides an opportunity for the regional advisory councils to raise issues and concerns for the Commission. The NFFO was present as part of the RAC delegations.

Stocks Outlook

A presentation to the meeting by a senior ICES scientist drew attention to:

  • The general improvement in the stocks in the North East Atlantic
  • The fact that fishing mortality on most stocks outside the Mediterranean had been substantially reduced
  • The progress that has been made in dealing with providing advice for data limited stocks. Where ICES is unable to provide a full quantitative assessment a new approach, using the varying degrees of information available stock by stock, had been developed after much hard work. This work was not yet complete but even now offered the prospect of a much improved approach to data limited stocks.

Economic Overview

Although still based on limited data, and accepting that there are wide differences between fleet segments, the meeting was advised economic performance of the EU fleets in 2011 had moved from loss to a small profit.

Management Plans

One of the more contentious areas of discussion focused on to whether a management plan should be followed irrespective of the consequences.

The RACs reaffirmed their support for management plans; drew attention to the benefits of establishing long term objectives and working steadily towards their achievement; described the ongoing work in the RACs on the development of advice on multi-annual management plans; and agreed with the need for discipline in following a plan once its terms have been agreed. However, they made the important point that when a plan had been evaluated and found to be fundamentally flawed, and when the date for its review and revision had been passed, the plan should not be followed blindly, with disregard for the consequences. The EU Cod Plan and EU/Norway harvest control rules, if followed in 2013, will lead to TAC and effort reductions of 20% to 25%. The Plan has effect in the North Sea, West of Scotland, Irish Sea and Eastern Channel. A surge in discards will be the inevitable consequence.

The Commission provocatively suggested that the RACs were being “inconsistent” in arguing that management plans required discipline but then advocating a departure from them.

The RACs made the case for an intelligent approach that takes into account the to the consequences of following a flawed plan – namely increased discards at a time when the CFP is supposed to be moving towards the elimination of discards.


Greenpeace, speaking for “a number” of unspecified environmental NGOs, suggested that where ICES had recommended a zero TAC, all fishing should stop; that fishing should only permitted when stocks biomass is above maximum sustainable yield, and that ministers should simply follow scientific recommendations.

The RACs responded by drawing attention to the human, social and economic costs of such a brutal approach; drew attention to the progress in rebuilding stocks in the North East Atlantic without such fundamentalist measures; pointed out that as ICES advice was still presented on a single stock basis, fisheries managers, including the Commission and ministers had a responsibility to set TACs with regard to mixed fishery dynamics including discards.