Hypocrisy of the bottom trawling fleet

Published on January 4, 2017

Following the quota reduction for western Baltic cod in 2017, the Fisheries Secretariat put forward a proposal to the Baltic Sea Advisory Council (BSAC). The proposal urges member states to support the most vulnerable fishers in line with Article 17 of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). However, this proposal was not supported by a single member representing the industrial fleet in the executive committee (ExCom) meeting, 15 November 2016 in Copenhagen.

Swedish, Danish and Estonian fisheries representatives made it very clear that they did not want to even discuss the issue in the Advisory Council, referring to the fact that the allocation of quotas between fleet segments is a national member state competence. However, it also became obvious that fishermen using bottom trawls do not want to give a single fish to their passive gear small scale colleagues – vulnerable or not.

“I just want to be very clear. We are not shying away from this because it is complicated, we are shying away because we think it is frankly shameful, and tasteless, to take fish from one fisher and give to another,” argued Michael Andersen, chief consultant representing Danish fisheries producers organisation, DFPO, and continued:

“It is as if I would say; ‘I only work for the green boats, let’s take all the fish from the red boats and give to the green’. I have no respect for that approach. That is why we do not want to discuss it. Frankly, I think it is shameful. Shame on you!”

The industry fleet representatives in strong terms condemned the proposal for a non-binding BSAC recommendation to member states to implement Article 17 of the EU Common fisheries policy.

Staffan Larsson, representing the Swedish Cod Fishers Producer Organisation, argued that any measures to help small-scale passive gear fishermen must include the seal-issue. Damages from seals, not lack of quota, is the main problem for coastal fishermen using passive gear.

“This proposal is a kind of disgrace,” said Staffan Larsson.

However, representatives from the coastal small-scale sector supported the motion.

“Yes, the seals are a problem, but that is no reason to dismiss this proposal,” said Marcin Rucinski, policy advisor for Low Impact Fishermen of Europe, LIFE.

In terms of how many people work in the industry, the small scale fishers are in a majority and they are the ones that will be hit first and the hardest by the quota cuts. This is an appeal to the authorities to look at the needs of the fishers who are most vulnerable over the coming years, argued Rucinski, and supported by Tapani Veistola from the Finnish Association for Nature Conservation and other NGO representatives.

“The proposal is simply a message to the Member States, a fair and just message. Only a reminder” Vestola said in an effort to calm the debate.

During the run up to the quota decision the Danish Fisheries Producer Organisation chair, Svend-Erik Andersen argued that any TAC reduction “will particularly affect coastal fishing…eroding their revenues and thus fishermen’s incomes dramatically”. However, when the same organisation now had the opportunity to give some support to coastal fishers they immediately blocked the motion. In the end Reine Johansson, BSAC chair, chose not to take proposal to a vote and urged the ExCom to continue the discussions in other fora, “under the Christmas trees”.

The position of the industrial fleet must be seen in light of their push to put a limit on angler’s catches, also a strict national competence in EU fisheries management, and use that as an argument to ignore scientific advice and set higher commercial cod quotas for 2017. No organisation ever suggested preventing these discussions in the BSAC, though.

Negotiations for the western Baltic cod quota for 2017 were so fraught that BALTFISH failed to reach an agreement and the decision was postponed to the Council for the first time in six years. Ministers eventually concluded an agreement for a 56% cut, rather than the 88% proposed by scientists and the Commission, with a caveat to allow fishing during spawning season.

In order to justify the quota, which was 510% above the recommendations, much was made of the socio-economic concerns which needed to be mitigated. Esben Lunde Larsen, Danish minister for environment and food, wrote that he would fight for “a lower reduction in the TAC than that proposed in the advice due to socio-economic considerations” in a letter to FishSec and many other NGOs.

What Esben Lunde Larsen chose to ignore is that these socio-economic problems have been caused by overfishing. The evidence is there from the USA and analyses from the new economics foundation, that the sooner the MSY objective is complied with, the greater the socio-economic benefits.

Article 17 of the CFP regulates “Criteria for the allocation of fishing opportunities by member states”. The law is explicit about the need for Member States to promote sustainable fishing methods when allocating fishing opportunities; “Member States shall endeavour to provide incentives to fishing vessels deploying selective fishing gear or using fishing techniques with reduced environmental impact, such as reduced energy consumption or habitat damage”. Further, Member States “shall use transparent and objective criteria including those of an environmental, social and economic nature”.

To remind Member States about their legal obligation to take extra care of low impact fishermen at a time when this fleet segment has been hit hard by Baltic Sea cod stocks that have already collapsed commercially (in the east), have failed recruitment (in the west) and have suffered management failure can hardly be dismissed as either “shameful” or a “disgrace”. FishSec sincerely hopes that national managers realise this, regardless of the advice that eventually comes out of the Baltic Sea Advisory Council.