The upcoming departure of the UK from the EU provides many opportunities to improve current policies. I was looking forward to reading this post Brexit solutions paper from the IEA.
I’ve been working in fisheries for more than 25 years on and off. There are plenty of fisheries in the world that are both profitable and sustainable. It makes sense to copy and learn from them.
Personally, I believe the best way to secure profitable and sustainable fisheries is through market-based approach. Subsidies do not work and should be phased out or preferably simply banned. There is no reason for discarding dish. It makes bad economics and the technology exists to make enforcement simple. A decent centralised market space solution is the best one. I have taken these broad approaches even when I worked as the Head of WWF’s European Marine Programme, but these views are my own.
What I was looking forward to
I was expecting to see such a plan from the IEA in this publication. The pamphlet is useful for those with no or very limited knowledge of fisheries policy and economics. But, it falls short of a serious roadmap for delivering a sustainable and profitable UK fishing industry.
I skimmed through most of the chapters. I have read most of the materials that are mentioned. It is a useful summary of current thinking.
What I found
The European common fisheries policy is dealt with in chapter 3. It provides a useful summary of the development of the CFP.
I am more struck by the gaps.
First, it is perplexing to see the from the pages of a so-called free market think tank the implicit support for the idea of discrimination on the ownership of assets based on nationality. That, is after all, all that is at stake by not allowing third country fishermen to buy quota and fish in British waters.
It would be ridiculous to require only “native born” people to own land in Britain, or a company, or any other form of property. The European Union has always upheld the important idea of the free movement and nondiscrimination. The idea that there is a problem that a Dutch vessels owns a large amount of the UK quota is perplexing. Anyway,it was the UK government who opposed the idea of requiring the quota owner to land their catch locally.
Second, it fails to note that fishermen from Britain have been fishing in third country waters for many hundreds of years as have fishermen, from other countries. These historic rights have been recognised by the 1964 Hague Convention. The common fisheries policy imported many of these historic rights.
Third, what is curious, is that when even considering the reason for TACs being set too high is only that Ministers asked for higher catches “to avoid their own national quotas from being cut” (page 68). This bookish analysis has overlooked the fishermen themselves were in denial of the state of stocks, and actively and effectively lobbied their ministers and the commission to set the quotas to high.
Fourth, it is also curious there is no substantive consideration of the widespread industrialisation of fisheries from the early 1970s. Technological creep is seriously overlooked by the author. The decline in fish stocks and the corresponding decline in jobs can as well be levelled at vessel owners investment, sometimes with the support of state subsidies, to build massive vessels for industrialised fishing.
It is important to note that there is no genuine issue with large-scale vessels. Sure, it allows fishing at sea for longer, but, it has the advantage of fisheries being safer, and all into important factor in what is still the most dangerous profession that exists. Small-scale fisheries are not by their nature more sustainable, even though many people believe this to be the case. Some of the most sustainable economic fisheries of the mega hundred metre long mackerel fishery is the north-east Atlantic.
Fifth,the author is correct in the lack of political will to deal with overcapacity. The lack of will was felt in most countries. The lack of political will to address control and enforcement was and is a serious issue. However, only Denmark seriously addressed the issue of control and enforcement, and few other countries were serious about it. Even the United Kingdom until recent years was plagued by illegal landings, questionable employment practices of migrants, and what can only be described as opaque ownership of quotas.
Sixth,the reference to, without serious examination, of the idea of days at sea is startlingly. It has been used in other regimes, such as the Faroe Islands. It has been an economic and stock disaster.
What is important is what the report does not mention.
Seven, Member states have been free to introduce free-market regimes within the existing common fisheries policy. Denmark and Estonia introduced ITQs. This helped address the issue of overcapacity in the market, and incentivized good stock management.
Eight, under the old common fisheries policy substantial discard ban trials existed. I worked with Denmark to introduce one many years ago. It worked. Before the new common fisheries policy, discard trials happened in other countries including the United Kingdom in England and in Scotland. They were a success.
Ninth, the report fails to mention that then Commissioner Damanaki, a former Communist revolutionary, introduced in the Commission’s proposal the idea of mandatory rights based management like ITQs. This was opposed by many countries including the United Kingdom.
Tenth, The report also does not mention the new common fisheries policy was inspired by the practice and lessons of Iceland and in particular Norway. It is interesting to note that this booklet does not consider seriously Norway. Is this because many years ago then socialist fisheries minister overnight banned subsidies and discards and introduced mandatory ITQs.
These are things the UK could do overnight. Indeed, it could now most of it today. But, Ministers and officials, who are all too often too close to the fishing industry prefer a more cosy pact.
I look forward to a system that ensures a profitable and sustainable fisheries. The manual needs to be written.