Newlyn Fish Market - boats due to land.

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Open Letter to UK Fisheries Minister, George Eustice from local NFFO man Paul Trebilcock

The President and Chairman of the NFFO have written a joint letter to Fisheries Minister George Eustice, warning against a one-dimensional MSY approach to setting TACs for 2015.

Open Letter to UK Fisheries Minister, George Eustice
George Eustice MP
Minister for Fisheries
Nobel House
17 Smith Square

Dear Minister,

TACs for 2015

It would be difficult to exaggerate the sense of frustration within the fishing industry over this year’s ICES advice, especially when read in conjunction with the Commission’s Communication on how it intends to approach the December negotiations this year.

With a few exceptions, stock after stock displays low or declining fishing mortality and steadily rebuilding biomass. The advice also suggests that major cuts quota will be proposed for 2015.

Fishing mortality has been steadily falling across all the main species groups since 2000. Biomasses of commercial species in general are responding to this reduction in fishing pressure, albeit at different rates in different stocks. Despite this progress, stock after stock faces very significant reductions in quota for 2015.

There are always questions over whether the assessments portray an accurate picture of the stock abundance but the main problem here is not with the science or the scientists. ICES has been asked to present its catch forecasts and TAC options in terms of maximum sustainable yield. 

The quota recommendations in the main are the result of the rigid application of MSY doctrine, now enshrined in law, which requires TACs to be set to achieve MSY by 2015, “where possible.”

You will not find many in the fishing industry who are against steady movement towards high yield fisheries. The issue is not whether MSY, MEY, or some other proxy for high yields fisheries should be our objective; the difficulty arises because an MSY policy approach is linked by law to a rigid timetable and which ignores biological realities and economic and social consequences.

Fishermen have done all that has been asked of them in terms of reducing fishing mortality. Some stocks have responded dramatically to this change; some more modestly and some hardly at all. Incoming year classes are the key to stock abundance when fishing pressure has been lowered but recruitment success is not yet responsive to political dictat. Patience is not a very exciting call to arms but in many cases it is what is now required.

This letter is therefore a plea. Given that fishing mortalities on most of our stocks are now low; given that cutting quotas in mixed fisheries, set on the basis of single stock assessments, invariably results in discards; given that another round of TAC cuts at a time when the abundance of fish experienced on the grounds is increasing generates incomprehension and anger within the industry; our plea is for you to take the lead in arguing for a pragmatic, outcome from the autumn negotiations focused on actual outcomes rather than dogma.

A degree of flexibility must be used to soften the harsh edges of a rigid MSY policy. If fish stock abundance was going in a different direction; if fishing mortality trends were increasing; if TAC cuts didn't generate more discards, there would still be a case for a less brutal approach. As it stands we have logic, fairness, rationality and biological realities on one side and an incoherent, scientifically challenged, political obligation to apply MSY on the other. We urge you to use all your resources to persuade the Commission and fellow ministers to temper this brutal approach with common sense. Stocks are rebuilding but perhaps we need a little patience.

Yours sincerely

Paul Trebilcock

Tony Delahunty