The Dying Days of Effort Control

23rd June 2014 in Europe / Common Fisheries Policy

Effort control (days at sea restrictions) as part of the EU Cod Management Plan, was dealt a fatal blow a couple of years ago by the Commission’s own Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries. Holed below the waterline it is taking its time to sink. Having studied the EU Cod Management Plan in considerable depth, STECF concluded that there was “no linear relationship between reductions in effort and reductions in fishing mortality”. In less arcane language, this meant that it was concluded that limiting vessel’s time at sea was a questionable way of conserving fish. This was a bombshell because effort control had been the centrepiece of the Commission’s approach to cod recovery since the late 1990s. At a stroke, the whole bureaucratic apparatus of controlling fleets time at sea was shown to have a very weak link to its central objective – reducing fishing pressure on cod.

The Dying Days of Effort Control

There was no doubt that effort control increased vessels’ costs and reduced their operational flexibility but the evidence was now also clear that it also generated perverse consequences, such as discarding of the very species the measure was designed to protect. So, it was no great surprise to those in the industry that the scientists concluded that as a conservation instrument it was ineffectual. Round about the same time fisheries managers in New England came to the same conclusion and abandoned days at sea limits.

The reason why effort control is still applied in the EU, (even though annual effort reductions have been dropped after an unseemly spat at the December Council) lies with the inter-institutional dispute between the European Parliament and the Council, over who has jurisdiction over setting annual quotas. The dispute has held up the replacement, or amendment, of a number of long-term management plans, including the cod plan. However, a joint Parliament/Council task force has now produced a report on how to proceed and the signs are that a way out of the impasse has now been found.

Commission Although the final decision will lie with the incoming Commissioner, the signs are that effort control will be ditched as quickly as is seemly. It is likely that it will play no part in the new- generation multi-annual management plans. Apart from anything else, as an input control, the effort regime would be wholly incompatible with the incoming landings obligation. In any logical approach, sweeping away all detailed prescriptive micro-management to give the landings obligation a chance to work would include the removal effort control.

Predictably, this will not happen quickly. Next year our boats will continue to labour under effort control irrespective of how Illogical and discredited. But there is an extremely strong case for effort control to be completely removed by 1st January 2016 when the landings obligation comes into effect.