Tuesday, 3 April 2012

International conference: "Fishing tomorrow, without discarding?

Colloque International - Today, Thursday (28-03-2012) at Boulogne.
Last Friday, a conference was held in Boulogne-sur-Mer about discards within the next CFP reform (Fishing for Tomorrow, Without Discarding). 

Contributors came from all sectors of the industry and beyond : politicians from regional level (UK-like counties), scientists, fishing gear technologists, POs, fishermen associations, fishermen, fishing boat designers, fishing boat safety, fishing harbour authorities, fish auctions, and finally people from the industry involved in utilising fish-waste. Countries represented were: UK, Scotland, NL, Eire, Spain and of course, France. Both industrial and small-scale fishermen were represented. And, of course, EU representatives were there.

Debates were tough and some unanimous in agreement. Here is a summary of  the most interesting ones from the fishermen's point of view.

"Better avoid by-catches"

Everyone said from every country represented (except EU), and every level in the industry : " We don't want a discard ban. Better to avoid by-catches by several means: selectivity, fishing strategy/behaviour changes, incentives on research and fishing activities, much longer delays" 

"discard ban is useless and counterproductive"

Every country represented had held fishing gear technology experiments, which are worth a European network by themselves. They all required full involvement of the industry and the boat's crew. If the EU introduces a ban on discards, this involvement and confidence will be torn apart. Especially, nearly all improvements create a loss of production to the fishing boat and requires sacrifices. It is difficult, it takes time and this has to be rewarded by a secured access to fishing possibilities (not necessarily by ITQs), and a better confidence in the industry from outside.

"When a fish is dead, it is dead, at sea or ashore".

Scientists' point of view. "There is no need to take it back from an ecological point of view. there is no improve to the ecosystem to remove it, on contrary, you remove it from the food web. There is no impact of the stock not to discard". And, of course, alive fish must go back to sea. And if undersize, we mustn't keep them on board. When considering the past, giving value to worthless low quality by-catches never gave any incentive to improve selectivity and even delayed the research  

"slippers skippers and quota leasing speculation has a huge impact on discarding" 

Just a little focus on FQA's role in the increase of discarding. SWFPA gave some precisions: FQAs are not involved by themselves, it is the leasing of FQA which has enhanced the high-grading behaviour. What are called now the "slippers skippers". Onboard fishermen have to spent at last 40% of their expenditure to lease quotas. No wonder we came to 50% of discards in North Sea (multi-specific fisheries).

"Zero by-catch is impossible"

In any way, if a total ban discard is implemented, that will create more fish to carry, more loaded hulls, more no-value fish, a higher carbon footprint. Commission start to speak about a tolerancy ratio (%). But fishermen wonder how they will be calculated, and which reference years will be taken. Sea conditions are changing : global warming,  some stocks also get better and catching profile is changing. 3 years ago, hake was only 5% of saithe by-catches in North Sea. Year after year, the balance has changed*, and the average % of hake doubled: 5%, 10%, 20% because hake stock improved. If whole fish or fillet prices or markets don't raise at the same speed, fishing profitability will be endangered and the choice of reference years has its importance increased. How the allowable rate of discard will be updated ?

"Boats are too old and dangerous"

Even the latest brand new Dutch  boats are already 10 years old. Floating stability is not as safe as new regulations would require. Old boats and too high floating gravitational center. They can't have a safe full load in the hull. We need larger boats (get rid off GT management). We already need safer at-sea tools. And keeping not valuable by-catches increases the risk to boats at sea.

"We are not children" (proper French word is "gosse", which would means "unresponsible children you have to keep an eye on")

Both Fishing industry, industrial and small scale one, have now in their hands very expensive tools. In the last 10 years, fishing industry size decreased. Fishing boat prices increased. The  industry has changed and is more aware of sustainability. And building a new boat is extremely expensive, at any scale it is expensive. For industrial size: a 25m long is 3.5 €M,; A 45m long is 10 €M. When it is so hard to invest without subsidies, of course you want the most secured conditions and you will behave in such way.

"bringing back valueless fish will create an unwelcome change in the harbour"

Nor on the boat or in the harbour, we don't have enough place for that. They will required new and heavy investments in cold storage. And you will need to change the boats; Which ground industry has to change all its production plant for regulatory reasons ? 

The question of delay is also huge. In Norway, they took 20 years to implement a discard ban. In fact, they don't have a single by-catch fish in the harbour. In Europe, even if we take 5 or 10 years to implement the ban discards, because we have more multi-specific fisheries than in Norway, we will drown our harbour with no/low value fish. And it will cost a lot to move it for fishing harbour staff. And fishing industry will have to pay for that. At least 7 €M.

"giving value to fish waste: everything is possible if you bring it in at less than 0.2 €/kg to our plant's doors"

Fish waste is a bad word for fish going for meal. But it is historical. Fish meal has now a high range of commercial outlets, and the profits are high, if you keep the raw materials at low prices. The fish-waste industry anyway states they are quite willing to try to find new outlets. They are very enthusiastic in R&D. But no hints of prices were given. the 0.2€/kg given-to-door price was estimated by European Fishing Harbour Association. Overall feeling is: they are nice people, but the price they are ready to pay won't cover the catching and landing costs. They asked about how much it costs to land the fish, using extra hull space, etc. They have difficulties to understand what is involved in fishing. And if they give such enthusiastic hints to EU they may create a false hope: valorisation way could exist, but won't pay the producer of the raw material.

Quotes from EU representatives:

I have picked up 2 sentences from EU staff and put in [ ] some out-of-the-record reaction they raised ; They are taken out of the context, and the EU will not be amused for that - but it gives some hints if you ever attend an EU meeting with such high level people:

- "we have already thought about it, but we didn't write it in our proposal" - [so why did you wait one year to tell it ?  your political negotiation strategy impact real life people]

- "we didn't go in such details and feasibility that much" - [ let's say devil is in detail ] 

"Finally : industry is ready to move on the way to avoid low/no value or unwanted by-catch"

With thanks to @pechefraice - this is a summary of the conference as delivered not necessarily the author's points of view.

* This is true of haddock and cod in Cornish waters.

Linked-in update: Follow the debate as it unfolds on the Linkedin web site.