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Big compromises needed to save Europes fisheries

According to expert advice, the new fisheries management approach proposed by the European Commission will not be enough to create a strong fishing sector unless bigger compromises are made by both fishermen and politicians.


By Amy Mowle

Given the critical state of the European Union’s fishing sector there is a pressing need for the common fisheries policy reform to be both strong and ambitious.The reform package, proposed by the European Commission in 2011, is currently being debated in the European Parliament and includes a report concerned with the basic regulation of EU fisheries.


The current common fisheries policy (CFP) used to control and manage Europe’s fishing sector is one of two policies that are common across member states. The CFP that is currently in place has been criticised by many marine biologists and politicians alike, claiming that it is not a strong enough policy to actually create an environmentally safe fishing sector.


Part of the basic reform package involves an offer to step up the standard of the EU’s fisheries by applying the management approach known as maximum sustainable yield across all commercial stocks, and this has exposed a division of opinions between parliamentarians and scientists.


Real compromise, real results


World renowned marine biologist and attributable founder of fisheries science, Dr Sidney Holt, is an expert in the requirements of strong and sustainable fisheries. Dr Holt has long been a reputable adversary of the popular fisheries management approach of maximum sustainable yield (MSY) and has recently written a report for the Greens within the European Parliament outlining the path to achieving sustainable fisheries.


Dr Holt believes that MSY is “in practice unattainable, because it requires an essentially infinite fishing effort, and its levels are easily influenced by policy makers”. Even so he accepts that MSY may be a last chance to achieve save European fisheries from disaster.


In regards to the current CFP, Dr Holt believes that “In contrast with the current policy of merely calling for sustainability, an MSY policy is an improvement in the sense that it provides in principle for recovery of depleted stocks”. Nevertheless for a real sustainable fishery to be achieved harsher compromise than simply achieving MSY across all commercial fishing industries is necessary.


What is maximum sustainable yield?


Each species has what is known as a carrying capacity, this is the maximum population size that can be supported by the environment a species lives in. The MSY is found at around half of this carrying capacity and is a way of measuring the maximum amount that can be taken from the population each year without harming the opportunity for numbers to bounce back.


In short, the idea of MSY is that any wild population is able to survive human exploitation without harm to a certain ongoing maximum level. The management approach of MSY has downfalls; it is focused on one species at a time and does not consider ecological damage caused by exploitation, it can be easily miscalculated as history as shown, and does not take into consideration external factors that influence numbers of a species such as climate change and weather patterns.


According to the official reform documents on MSY, EU Member States subscribed to the MSY objective almost thirty years ago in the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Seas. They then reiterated it in the 1995 UN Fish Stock Agreement, in 2002 in the Johannesburg Declaration and finally in 2010 in Nagoya. Still, there has been very little done within the Member States to achieve MSY, and the reform is seen as a final and necessary attempt to rehabilitate fish stocks that are vital to many EU member states dependant on the fisheries industry.


Parliamentarians don’t want to listen


According to Dr Holt, MSY has much potential be an effective management approach for the EU, but only if compromises are made. “Greatest profitability comes with catches of around 50-80% of MSY, with high, profitable catch rates. Taking less than MSY has other implications: far less ecosystem impact, more stability of catches, larger average size of fish caught, less so called by-catch and discards, and restored profitability”, he says. But there is opposition to any approach that involves added compromise to European fisheries from influential Members of the European Parliament (MEP).


There is opposition to this advice from MEP’s who are debating the reform. Struan Stevenson, Scottish MEP from the Conservative Party, believes that fishermen will refuse to make more sacrifices than will already be required under the MSY management approach. “Fishing under MSY will curtail the ability for fishermen to make a decent profit. It is understandable that the environmental side of things must be considered, but we can’t forget the social and economic impact this kind of approach would have.”, he said. Mr Stevenson believes that rather than fishing under MSY, there needs to be further reductions of fishing fleets to truly achieve sustainable fisheries.


Øle Christensen, a Danish MEP and member of the Social Democrats, is fighting for a more “ambitious reform” but believes that fishing at a percentage of MSY would be difficult and hard to justify. “Getting the reliable numbers is so hard, so I completely understand the argument of having a safety net. Then again, you have to have some limit. It’s good to have an indicator that we have agreement on, and at this stage it is to set the targets at MSY”, he said.


Perhaps the only party within the European Parliament in support of the imperative advice is the Greens, who asked Dr Holt to prepare a report on the prospect of sustainable fisheries in the EU . Michael Earle is an advisor on fisheries and MEP representing the Greens. He says that “Fish stocks must be allowed to recover to stock sizes significantly above those capable of producing MSY”, and the only way he believes this can be achieved is through adhering to a percentage of MSY approach to managing EU fisheries.


There’s still hope for the reform


History has shown that MSY has championed in some parts of the world, such as Alaska, which has maintained healthy, booming fisheries through holding catches at a scientifically qualified maximum sustainable yield. Yet, in another example from the United States, New England fisheries collapsed after scientific recommendations were routinely ignored.


The question remains in whether or not the European Parliament will be willing to support the compromise that Dr Holt has recognised to ensure a profitable and secure fisheries industry for years to come. The advice of Dr Holt will be pushed by the Greens; “Life is about negotiations, but at this point in the process we are pushing our ideas and not planning on watering down our demands”, says Mr Earle, but the result will not be clear until the final debate on the reform is held. The basic regulation package of the reform is to be implemented across all of Europe’s fisheries by 2013.




You can follow the progress of the reform at