Limiting fishing now could expand food tomorrow

An interesting article: How is it that our more effectively managing ocean resources could help us better feed the world?

“The global fish catch peaked in the late 1980s and has been declining ever since,” reports Oceana.

The group cites research showing that “sensible management” could increase fish yields up to 40 percent and increase the biomass in the oceans by almost 60 percent.

“If managed wisely, our fisheries could provide the world with 700 million nutritious meals every day.”

For us here’s the quote which defines the problem that is holding back the potential of the oceans fisheries:

“In areas where fisheries managers have been able to set catch limits based on fish biology instead of industry interests, seafood populations have started to bounce back.”

Recognition of the core problem of ‘industry captured’ fisheries management is actually quite widespread but too few voices have had the courage to spell out  the problem, especially in

Europe where the extent to which the whole sorry mess of marine fisheries management (CFP) is enshrined by a framework that unashamedly ensures the process of formulating policies and management measures is dominated by industry interests, is catastrophic.
An EU Commission Press Release in July 2011 read:  “political leaders tend to favour short-term interests rather than long-term resource conservation;”   Frank Pope of the Times picked up that story and explained how, as the posturing began for the CFP reform 2012, lessons from the previous reform in 2002 appeared not to be learnt. He laid the blame fairly and squarely at the feet of fishing industry lobbyists.

Fisheries Management in the US is widely acknowledged as far more successful than throughout the EU. In 2003, a paper written by Prof. Thomas Okey of the Fisheries Centre, University of British Columbia, was published in the May edition of Marine Policy. The report’s abstract reads:

“Contemporary economic sensibilities within this “industry captured” regulatory process generate perverse incentives for management decisions that conflict with, and can undermine, national sustainability goals and standards, even when those standards are logically sound and agreed to by consensus. The skewed composition of the Fishery Management Councils appears to be a central reason for the mismanagement of our fisheries. Congress intentionally created a council system in which industry would dominate because they recognised the critical role of fishermen in making and complying with management decisions. Unfortunately, the institutionalised capture of resource decision-making by fishing industries promotes a pathological focus on short-term economic gains that consistently jeopardises the long-term health of fish stocks and marine ecosystems.” “Political leaders tend to favour short-term interests rather than long-term resource conservation.”

What is needed is a Fisheries Minister with the guts of Doug Kidd – Ex Fisheries Minister New Zealand whose catch phrase was “Fish first – people second.” He realised the obvious; that to have a profitable fishing sector (recreational and commercial) the single most important ingredient is FISH. Such a policy initially attracted considerable anger from many amongst the commercial industry but over time they reaped the reward. The public fishery resources should always be the number one priority.

If there was ever doubt as to the validity of claims suggesting fisheries management across the EU was systemically compromised due to being based on acquiescence to the catching industry, I was no longer so after John Gummer’s public announcement in 1997 (when Labour won the election) as retiring Minister he said: “I was never able to implement the conservation measures I believed were required because the fishing industry wielded to much political clout. The lawn mowing business employs more people but doesn’t have four Ministries across the UK.”

Another influential voice, that of Rainer Froese, a marine ecologist at the Leibniz Institute for Marine Sciences had these comments:  “The EU Commission is not to blame for the fisheries ‘mess’, but the member states and the fishermen are.”  He went on to add, “The sad state of the European fish stocks is not a natural or societal failure that good management simply could not overcome.

“No, it is a desired outcome of Europe’s Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) which has allowed the fishing lobby to infiltrate the European Union’s political system.

“The European public has been led to believe that fisheries management is decided by bureaucrats in Brussels. In fact, member states have the most influence – they make and implement the decisions that are made.

“In most member states this power is with the ministry of agriculture. Yet too many of these ministries have a cosy relationship with the fishing lobby – many of the civil servants firmly believe it is their job to protect the rights of their national fishing sector, including the rights to obtain subsidies and to overfish.

“This concentration of explorative, legislative and executive power within a ministry belies what we learned in school about the importance of separated powers in a democratic system.

“Perhaps it is because the public still has romantic notions about fishing – the media are drawn to fishermen who block ports or dump fish in the streets of Brussels – that the European fisheries lobby gets away with destructive tactics.



“It routinely discredits scientists and their advice, denies the depleted status of stocks, fights the establishment on protected areas, defends the use of destructive equipment, insists on the right to catch juvenile fish and requests the abandonment of closed spawning seasons and areas.



In doing so it has destroyed the very basis that fishing depends on. 
European fishers have profit margins of between 3% and 6%, whereas in New Zealand, which has successfully reformed its fisheries, the margins are closer to 40%.



Fisheries management in Europe culminates in the closed-door meetings of the Council of the European Union. Decisions are typically taken by a two-thirds majority, but need consensus if the European Commission feels that its proposal has been ignored.



This was recently the case in a preparatory meeting on the threatened bluefin tuna. The member states were unhappy with the Commission’s proposal which followed the scientific advice and asked commission officials to leave the room. They agreed unanimously, with few abstentions, on much higher catches.



Although the ministers change every few years, their advisors remain and oppose any true change. As a result, the CFP has more than 600 regulations – many of which contradict each other.



For example, regulated mesh sizes catch smaller fish than the fishers are allowed to land. These fish are then dumped dead at sea.



The setting of next year’s catches has been described as ‘political horse-trading’ with unholy alliances supporting each other in an effort to secure the highest possible share for the national fishing sector.


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To claim the CFP is “industry captured” is a gross understatement and until there is a cultural change amongst Commission staff, national fisheries administrations and above all amongst national Fisheries Ministers that place the wellbeing of our public fishery resources as their overarching responsibility, it is difficult to see how long term successful management strategies will ever be implemented.
The next CFP reform is due in 2022. Will see more tinkering around the edges or will we see REAL meaningful changes?  A lot depends on the willingness of NGO’s to courageously articulate their objections to current CFP legislation that stipulates industry domination of each and every forum such as the Regional Advisory Councils (RACs) where 60% of seats (votes) are allocated to industry.