NFFO Shellfish Summit Report

As part of our efforts to put in place progressive, practical management arrangements to underpin a sustainable future for the crab and lobster fisheries, the NFFO’s Shellfish Summit held at the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich on 14th October 2014 provided an important platform aimed at kick-starting national policy.

NFFO Shellfish Summit Report

Opening the Summit, Tony Delahunty the Chairman of the NFFO welcomed the strong turn-out, reflecting a wide gamut of catching, processing regulatory and science interests. The Summit’s purpose was to bring all key groups together to help build a shared understanding of the issues, especially of the crab and lobster fisheries, as a basis for paving the way to implementing pragmatic solutions.

Science

Ewen Bell of Cefas provided an overview of the stocks assessment process and highlighted the research programmes aimed at strengthening the evidence base which underpin management decisions (presentation). Cefas advice is updated on a 3-5 year cycle for English regions (with the exception of the Irish Sea). Work on the latest assessments, which had yet to be formally released, showed similar patterns to the previous assessments. Current targeted research focussed on crab and lobster growth, lobster mortality, whelk maturity and assessment methodologies.

The Summit turned to considering how industry could contribute to the evidence base. Currently catch per unit effort data are not sufficiently detailed enough to draw conclusions on stock dynamics. The need for some kind of sentinel fleets through which both fishing and non-fishing factors could be better taken into account was recognised as a potential way forward. Efforts were being made to help fishermen to contribute to self-sampling of catches through the use of information technology. Retrospective analysis of data had the potential to provide valuable insights into the effects that fishing effort might have on the size distribution of stocks.

Policy

Shaun McLennan and Yiota Apostolaki of Defra provided an overview of the fisheries and the status of shellfish policy. The presentation drew out important facts about these fisheries:

· 43% of all fishermen in the UK were involved in pot fisheries.

· 63% of all English landings by weight are shellfish. The first sale value of crab and lobster landings in the UK in 2013 was £34 million.

· These fisheries are arguably the most data poor, yet currently the most commercially important in the UK.

Attention was drawn to important policy drivers such as the reformed Common Fisheries Policy and the Marine Strategy Framework Directive designed to achieve a pathway for long term sustainability in the short term by 2020. Based on current assessments, stocks were currently being fished at or above measures of MSY in English waters. Management of the shellfish fisheries is complex. Multiple management jurisdictions over shared stocks is one of the most significant complications (EU, member state, devolved administrations and IFCAs) but Defra’s intention was to look at a stock specific approach. A range of potential measures were available, ranging from voluntary through to regulatory controls and industry would be encouraged to become involved in helping to design management schemes and to take non-regulatory actions.

Sarah Clark of Devon and Severn IFCA provided an outline of current and future management measures for shellfish stocks within different IFCA jurisdictions (presentation). Some of the changes were coming about following bye-law reviews but IFCAs were also looking more and more at adaptive co-management arrangements.

Dr Colin Bannister of SAGB provided a historical account of how the industry had developed and exploitation patterns changed, and traced the path of discussions, key events and initiatives in the last 15 years aimed at influencing management changes in the fisheries, but which to date had not led to policy traction within government (presentation).

Paul Trebilcock, and Barrie Deas of the NFFO gave an overview of the development of the Federation’s policy centred on:

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

· A regionalised tool box approach to reflect the diversity of fleet around the coast.

· Pursuing management in an incremental, step-wise way, rather than designing grandiose national schemes which had never reached take-off speed.

Towards a Shared Understanding of the Way Forward

In plenary discussions, the elements of a future direction for the fisheries were elaborated:

Regional Approach

The need for a flexible approach to coastal fisheries was recognised, but there was also a need to effectively with cross boundary issues. IFCAs were the appropriate bodies to facilitate the formulation and implementation of measures within the inshore zone but there was mixed experience of working with local industry and transparency was an issue is some cases. Defra also saw the value of focussing at the regional level to address management needs of individual stocks.

Government and Industry Roles

A sense of frustration over what the fishing industry saw as a long running policy inertia was made clear. Government now, however, had fewer resources in order to act and the current regulatory environment increased an emphasis on industry being able to act independently. Nonetheless, there was a strong industry view that government had to set the framework as a prerequisite under which industry could operate, without which it was not possible for industry to move forward. A road map was needed that laid out a timetable for implementing change. The first step was to address latent capacity and the Federation’s position to limit growth in the >15m fleet was as relevant today as it was when it’s effort cap policy was first formulated in 2011. Interpreting what MSY meant for the fisheries would also be important.

Evidence Base

Good management requires a strong information base to underpin management decisions. It was agreed there is a clear need for a long term mechanism for more effective and comprehensive data collection to underpin the evidence base. This should involve fishermen in the collection of relevant data. Only in this way will effective and tailored management of the shell fisheries evolve. The science base has come a long way in recent years but remains a still an equally long way from providing the definitive advice and insights that helped to underpin sound management decisions.

Although Defra is working on this question, it is also for the industry itself to take the initiative. There are already examples of good practice, and modern information technology could provide the means for effective but non-intrusive monitoring of fishing activities. There were important questions about what data was collected; who collected it; who owned the data; and what conditions were associated with its use.

Following the Summit the NFFO and SAGB submitted the following letter to the Minister.