Ahead of the December Council meeting at which quotas for the Northeast Atlantic and North Sea are set, The Fisheries Secretariat along with Seas At Risk, The Pew Charitable Trusts, ClientEarth and Oceana provided a briefing to Ministers with recommendations for 16 stocks identified as being in environmentally poor condition and having been mismanaged.
Ministers set quotas above scientific advice for 14 of these 16 stocks (see table below).
Of additional concern is that most of these stocks will now be subject to double overfishing because of the failed “discard ban”.
Ministers have not only ignored the scientific advice on fishing mortality but have also put aside warnings that the true level of catches are in excess because extra “top-up” quotas envisaged as compensation for the landing obligation have been allocated, primarily to the bottom trawl segment, despite illegal discarding being prevalent and acknowledged by scientists, observers and fishery control agencies.
During the EU-Norway quota negotiations in early December this practice was explicitly criticised by the Norwegian Delegation who stated “that setting a TAC based on the assumption of perfect compliance with the landing obligation for fisheries previously associated with high levels of discards, might lead to fishing pressures well above Fmsy and no improvement in exploitation pattern. The concern includes loss of future yield as well as underreported catches leading to serious bias in the future stock assessments to be used for management decisions”.
These sixteen stocks have all been overfished, with biomass depleted to low levels at which recruitment can fail for most of the stocks. Moreover, data on Bmsy (maximum sustainable yield in terms of biomass) has yet to be developed, despite the EU committing to manage stocks in such a way that biomass exceeds this level by 2020.
Much work needs to be done next year for most stocks to be managed at “green light” levels. With the deadline for achieving both MSY for all stocks and Good Environmental Status under the Marine Strategy Framework Directive by 2020, unless immediate changes are made, fishers and managers will be left looking over a cliff edge next year.