What delivers sustainable fisheries?

25th July 2011 in Sustainability / Environment

An interesting and authoritative “global meta analysis” of 345 fish stocks has recently been published.

The Washington University research into whether a quota shares system (where quotas are allocated to individual fishing enterprises) is superior to systems that set quota caps for whole fleets in achieving management objectives and sustainable fisheries has turned up some interesting and timely results

Given the world wide span of the research, the principal finding is that the main influence on whether management measures deliver sustainable fisheries is related to regional factors. This makes sense as stocks managed under, for example, a rigid and inflexible Common Fisheries Policy are unlikely to perform as well as others managed under more flexible and responsive regimes.

However, it is the scorecard on stocks that are judged to be overexploited that the research is particularly relevant.

The survey found that:

  • Overexploitation occurred in 9% of stocks under quota shares
  • Overexploitation occurred in 13% of stocks under fleet wide quota caps
  • Overexploitation occurred in 41% of stocks under effort control

As effort control (days at sea restrictions) is at the heart of the current EU cod management plan and that plan has recently been reviewed by ICES/STECF, these research results from serious fisheries scientists using a rigorous statistical methodology could not carry more significance. Clearly the research does not to say that catch shares or fleet cap systems, or any other quota allocation arrangements will on their own deliver sustainable fisheries. But it does send a very strong signal that those who advocate effort control are barking up the wrong tree if sustainable fisheries is their goal.