This was a different kind of December Council in a number of important ways. Many delegations…
TACs to Increase to Cover Discards
The Commission has made it clear that it is prepared to propose significant increases in TACs to address the current problems of TAC generated discards.
The critical qualifying criteria will be that such increases are without prejudice to the Commission’s fishing mortality targets.
This clarification of a radical change in policy direction emerged at a recent meeting between the Commission and the Northwest Waters RAC to discuss the future of effort control and the RAC’s work towards a decisive change to the cod management regime in the Irish Sea and West of Scotland.
The RAC presented its recently agreed policy paper Breaking the Cycle of Decline which outlines an approach that, if adopted, would:
- See TACs aligned with current level of catches rather than landings (currently 92% of the cod caught in the West of Scotland are discarded)
- Remove effort control as a measure that has patently failed to achieve its objectives
- Replace low TACs and effort constraints with a customised system of fully documented fisheries based on reference fleets
- Rebuild the stock assessments to obtain an accurate picture of stock developments in the Irish Sea and West of Scotland
During the course of the meeting it was clear that the Commission was ready to countenance dramatic increases in TACs as part of its preparation for the discard ban foreseen in its CFP reform proposals. However, achieving fishing mortality targets would remain the guiding principle. In other words TAC increases would only be proposed if the final TAC is neutral in terms of the overall proportion of the stock caught.
This approach would be a radical change of direction from the policy of ongoing annual TAC reductions underpinned by effort reductions. STECF’s evaluation of the EU Cod Management Plan last year cast doubt on whether this was an effective approach to rebuilding the cod stocks in the Irish Sea and West of Scotland . It would also create a new incentive for a much greater level of cooperation between the fishing industry, fisheries managers and ICES scientists.
The essence of the new approach would be that more accurate catch information (landings plus discards) would be reflected in higher TACs. At present the system operates in the opposite direction: weak assessments lead to the application of a higher degree of precaution, which in turn lead to lower TACs, which lead to a higher proportion of discards. This is the cycle of decline that the NWWRAC aims to break with its new approach.
The NFFO has played a central part in drafting the RAC position paper as part of a NWWRAC focus group, meeting with stock assessment scientists in Dublin. The next steps for the RAC will be to flesh out the proposal by working with ICES scientists to provide simulations on TACs based on catch rather than landings. The development of a form of fully documented fisheries that would allow the industry to demonstrate total catches with confidence is an equally important part of the approach. The RAC made clear that CCTV cameras are not the appropriate form of verification for all fleets but that alternatives, possibly in the form of reference fleets with rotating observers aboard a small sample of the fleet, with cross-checked catch compositions may provide the way forward.
The Commission has requested that the European Fisheries Control Agency elaborate how such a system could work.
What is certain is that more than a decade of cod recovery measures based on quota and effort reductions have not worked. A radically different approach is required.
The Irish Sea and West of Scotland demersal fisheries demonstrate some important similarities but they are also different in important ways. What they share is that that the failure of management measures has gone hand in hand with a failure of the stock assessment process. Fixing both is at the heart of the RACs proposals.