ICES advice to shift into MSY approach

Published on May 6, 2010

As a result of ICES clients now subscribing to the Maximum Sustainable Yield approach, ICES is currently developing a strategy for the transition of the current precautionary-based advice to an MSY framework.

The International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) is an independent organisation/network based in Copenhagen that provides the European Union and other clients with scientific advice for EU decisions on fisheries issues, including catch quotas. The shift to an MSY-based approach was agreed at the 2009 annual meeting of the ICES Advisory Committee (ACOM), and the next steps in the process were discussed at a meeting in Copenhagen in early May.

The European Union has subscribed to the MSY approach by adopting a specific MSY policy that aims to adjust fishing mortalities to the levels corresponding to MSY by 2015.

As in many cases fishing mortalities for EU fish stocks are above MSY, the Commission has asked ICES to calculate catch options to enable a smooth transition towards the new management approach.

The ICES MSY framework adopted in 2009 represents a change in the ICES advice philosophy as the precautionary advice strives at avoiding an undesired outcome, impaired recruitment, while the MSY framework aims at achievingdesiredoutcome, a high sustainable long term yield.

According to ICES, the MSY framework is indeed consistent with the precautionary approach as well as national and international policies and agreements. It should, according to ICES, result in lower fishing mortality rates, and in the long term larger stock sizes and higher catches than the ICES precautionary approach framework.

The ICES MSY framework uses both fishing mortality and biomass reference points, Fmsy and BMSYtrigger. Fmsy is the fishing mortality that will maximise average yield in the long term and is generally lower than the precautionary fishing mortality Fpa that is currently being used as the main reference point for advice. The BMSYtrigger is a biomass reference point that triggers a cautious response when stocks fall below a trigger level.

BMSYtrigger is evolved from the precautionary advice reference point Bpa and is designed to ensure that stocks are maintained within desirable stock size ranges. In practice this means that when the size of the biomass for a particular stock falls below the trigger level, the advice will be to decrease fishing mortality below MSY. The ICES MSY framework still has the possibility to advice for zero TAC and fishery closures in cases where a stock is in a particularly dire state.

A transition period for the ICES MSY framework to be put in place is needed, as it will take some time to gather all the necessary data, e.g. needed to establish reference points for all stocks. In the mean time ICES will use the precautionary approach as its main basis for advice.

The EU Commission has furthermore requested a proposal for transition on the grounds that current fishing mortalities are generally above MSY. ICES will therefore present a transition scheme to achieve a gradual decrease in fishing mortality in the years 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015.

For the 2011 ICES advice a set of options will be presented. These may include upper limits defined by the precautionary approach, by management plans, and by an option based on the transition scheme related to the ICES MSY framework. The precautionary approach options will identify ICES’ upper limit for responsible management.

An introductory text explaining the transition towards the ICES MSY approach will be included in the ICES 2010 advice.