Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Seafood Champions! - Newlyn boat and crew win International 'Fishing Innovation Award' - but was it worth it?

In Malta at the International Seafood Awards, David Stevens and his crew were recognised for their immense efforts in order to minimise the effects of the Landing Obligation through the use of technology to win the Fishing Innovation Award - immense effort which has cost them real money, real time and real effort - before reading the article below take a few minutes to see what life aboard their boat is like:

SeaFood Champions Awards ~Innovation.

Last night in Malta SeaWeb held the Seafood Champions awards ceremony, the awards ceremony is held on the first night of the annual seafood summit which is a 3 day event.

The summit brings together all sides of the fishing debate, policy makers, scientists, NGO’s, fishing managers and a few Fisherman.

The topics that are discussed are always very relevant and they are designed to challenge all parties involved with fisheries and bring them together and discuss the big issues of the day.

This year we (Crystal Sea Fishing) were nominated for one of the award categories, there are 4 categories (Innovation, Leadership, Vision and Advocacy)   there were 90 nominations for the four awards this year and this was narrowed down to 16 in all, 4 for each category.

We were nominated for our work that we have been involved with over the last 4 years with the MMO as part of the CQT scheme (catch quota trials). The trials have involved fishing vessels taking remote electronic equipment on board our vessels, to monitor the health of the stocks and most importantly our impact we have on our mixed fisheries.

I have blogged before on what we have been up to and our findings, for us the most important part of what we have achieved has been proving that the fish stocks are in great health, far greater than the science ever predicted and that when fisherman are given the incentives, the right amount of quota and the flexible legislation to go about our work, we can deliver far better results.

We have also been able to build a collaborative approach with the MMO and the scientists (to a point) to use the work we have undertaken to build a very accurate picture of the effects our technical measures have had on our catches and it has given a very in depth look at the mechanisms we use and how policy adoptions could make our fisheries more reactive and deliver far better outcomes for all involved, by joining fishing, science and policy together to balance the whole approach we take.

I am proud to say that for the Innovation Category Crystal Sea Fishing have won the award! I am delighted that we have been recognised for our work and all credit goes to the crew who have done a huge amount of work over the last 4 years in enabling this data to be collected.

However lets not get carried away with patting ourselves on the back, today I don’t feel elated or have a great sense that we have achieved anything yet, we still have a lot of work to do. I am sorry I feel this way but it’s just how I feel and I am sure many other fishermen feel the same.

We are not the only ones who have undertaken scientific work and technical measures over the years, the UK fishing industry has taken on a lot of work in this area and I would say in Europe the UK leads the way in being pro-active towards its fisheries.

When I look back over the last 4 years I am reflecting on how far we have travelled, we have achieved a lot, we have proved beyond doubt that fisherman can be trusted to run fisheries and that we are the ones who are best placed to deliver the results.

Fishermen have more than delivered on our side of the bargain, to reduce discards and overall fishing mortality, and to deliver great data.

I have to ask though where has it gotten us? 

Since we have been working with the CQT scheme, our choke species is and has always been haddocks, and even though we have proved the sheer abundance of this stock in our area and that it is on a very strong upwards stock growth trend, we have faced year on year cuts of over 70% in the last 4 years.
This year we are seeing so many haddocks that even with being able to reduce our haddock catches by over 70%, we still do not have enough quota to go about our fishing practices despite having enough quota for all other species.

The work that the MMO has done with interpreting the data has been excellent and they have produced some great reports with very convincing data. They have proved how useful the REM equipment is and how it can deliver on many of the scientific challenges we face.

But who is listening?  

As yet we have not seen much movement with the scientists, who like the work and the data but they say it doesn’t fit their data collection protocols.

I can understand this, as one data set is not enough to give a full reflection of the impact of the fishery as a whole, however the data they are collecting is very small in comparison to what is needed to be done and most fisherman believe because of this, the picture the science has (from what they are seeing) does not reflect what the fisherman are experiencing on the grounds.

Then we lead onto policy, the policy makers have to follow the scientific evidence regardless of whether it is accurate or not, they then use this data and apply theoretical science to this at ICES to predict such things as to what levels to set the TAC (total allowable catch)  based on MSY principles (maximum sustainable yield).

This all relies on the accuracy and quality of the data, for most stocks I would say the science is within the ball park for this to be workable, however on the erratic recruitment stocks of which haddock is one of many I would argue that more work needs to be done in this area for sure.
They then take the data and the scientific principle add in a landings obligation and the EU then applies all of this to an out of date over arching policy of the CFP (common fisheries policy) and expects it all to work.

Well it doesn’t and if we carry on like this it never will!

The real prize here is for a fishery to be taken in the most efficient, economically advantageous way for our communities and for it to remain in continued constant good health.

For this to happen science needs to be part of what we do as fisherman, the scientists need to make best use of the data we have available and the tools we have to do this. Policy needs to recognise how to achieve this and start asking the right questions of the science and themselves, and then policy has the chance to reflect the fishery more closely, which will deliver the right outcomes.
For me this is our goal, it’s the only prize worth having, fisherman have for a long time faced the brunt of the blame for the poor policy decisions, we have been left baffled by the lack of common sense being applied to policy and we all deserve better.

As for us despite even after 4 years of ridiculous cuts which have only made our job harder and delivered no benefits to the stock, we will continue to go about our work and fully document our catches and apply the best methods of capture by use of technical innovation.

I don’t see any other choice, as fisherman we are natural optimists (you’d have to be to do this job) and burying our heads in the sand won’t solve these issues. We will go out and reverse the burden of proof and lead the way for science and policy to follow, it’s our only option.

The Landings Obligations Reality

For the last 3 years we have been involved with the UK's catch quota scheme (CQT). This has involved us carrying camera's on board our vessel and continuously recording our catches and not discarding any quota species. In year one we worked solely with haddocks, by year two we had moved onto 3 species (haddocks, Megrims and monks), this year we have been observing a full no discards on all quota species, Fully documenting our catch. We have also run an economic impact study alongside as well from the different trials of nets we have run. 

We have been lucky in that we have been able to undertake this work and make full use of the small incentives available under the CQT scheme, and for us we were more than happy to step up and prove, that if fisherman are given a reasonable chance to manage their own fishery they can really deliver a more reactive and responsive fishery. However I would stress that this should not be seen as (that’s ok landings obligation solved all vessels try this), as we all know the situation is more complicated than that. Although on the surface, the work we have done looks good, when you look deeper into what is happening then the picture that comes out doesn’t look quite so rosy.

We have had a lot of success with the adaptions we have made with our gear in eliminating juvenile haddocks, and the total capture of haddocks of all sizes. We have reduced under the MLS haddock catches by 87% and the total volume of haddocks is now well under 70% of what we would expect to see in our control nets (the gear we worked prior to the trial.) 

We have also had to use area avoidance and many nights we have been unable tow, due to volumes of haddocks still being too large for the quota we have available. This has come at a cost, we have lost our catch of whiten almost completely, our squid catch is down by half. We have been unable to work all of our grounds as well, so we haven’t always been in the best place to fish. 

Also by not towing at night from April through to October we have missed 25% of our hauls in this time period, with the resulting loss of all that fish we would have obviously taken, (megs, monks, lemons , ray, whiten Gurnard, Dover sole , and many more).There has been a fairly considerable financial loss this year, as well as a loss to the markets, of fish that we would have otherwise caught during our laying at night and area avoidance.

We have used 4 methods to reduce haddock juveniles and total haddock capture, we have cut the cover in our nets by 13 feet, we have fitted 100 mm and 120 mm regulatory SQMP, and the 100 mm SQMP in the cod end, we also fitted agitators in the stocking below the regulation panels to entice the fish through the SQMP. All of the methods have worked in differing ways to get the results, however they have their drawbacks and should be only used when conditions require it, and to skippers discretion, we don’t need these measures made law, apart from the one’s already in place.

However by working with the cameras and fully documenting our catch it has given us an insight of what the full landings obligation will look like in 2019 if its fully implemented. The one thing we can say for sure, is that if it comes in as its intended, even with the flexibility's it has built in.  There is no way we could fish all year round, and that includes the steps we have taken. We would choke on haddocks by the end of august or earlier, so although we have suffered a loss we have learned valuable lessons for the future of our business. 

Although the camera’s are primarily an enforcement tool, from our experience over the last 3 years we have found them more friend than foe. With continuously working with the cameras under the MMO’s CQT trial, we have been able to utilise the data we have captured and build a very good picture of the effects our experiments have had on our fishery, both environmentally and economically. The MMO has taken a very pragmatic approach in the way it runs the CQT scheme and this has been the biggest factor in the success of the scheme and delivering its outcomes. A simplistic approach of using the camera’s as just enforcement would not of worked at all.

Importantly for us we have seen that the data we have captured, become very useful and it is now being added into the scientific system and although it is only one data set, it is a lot of data, and we have been able to add a lot of weight to the scientific evidence. We have probably now come as far as we can in what we can achieve, for us it’s maybe too far, as we have received a fairly sizable financial loss,  we have shown that fisherman can react and improve their fishery, however there is a limit when that starts to have a large economic impact and a problem of under catching species for which they have quota available.

We hope from the work we have done that the scientist and policy makers take a closer look at the reasons why fisheries are choking too early, and react to this with a more flexible approach. There are many reasons for discards and just blaming the fisherman for the problem, as many in the NGO's, journalists and politicians, have done in the past is just not good enough. The fish that were discarded before the landing obligation was introduced were mainly over the MLS( minimum landing size), and this was due to policy, now they will become a choke species (species that will close a fishery). 

 I would say bad policy creates far more discards than so called bad fishing practices, there are many complex reasons why a species becomes a choke, for our choke (area 7 haddocks) this is a multi layered problem. Essentially from what we are seeing on the grounds I think the lack of scientific data and more importantly the way that data is collected is causing a problem with the stock estimates of this species.

Coupled with that basing the quota amounts on historical catch data records is going to have huge implications across the EU as we all know fish move, and distribution cycles have changed in the last 25 years dramatically. This is the problem for us for area 7 haddock, before 95 we hardly saw a haddock now they are everywhere. The same can be said for many species around the UK and Ireland take hake for example in the North Sea.

Also drawing lines on a chart that determine stock coverage is no way to manage a fishery, the fish follow the feed and they will pass through area's and pay no attention to imaginary lines on a map, something is needed to address this issue as well.

It’s time that the commission understood that most of our fisheries are mixed fisheries and we need a balance of quota, simply working with single stock management will never work. Also relative shares have a big impact on some species when you apply a landings obligation to a mixed fishery. For example the UK takes around 20% of the EU quota in area 7, our choke( area 7 haddock) we only have 9% of the EU allocation so when you then apply that to a mixed fishery the UK has less than half the haddock it needs to start with, the same applies for differing species across many areas and member states.
Then the future is still not quite so assured, as when we come to the uplifts instead of looking at the discard for a certain species at member state level it will be applied at EU discard rate level, so once again relative shares have not been addressed.

This approach needs a rethink, obviously relative shares are a big issue and not easily broached, and I doubt we would ever see movement in this area, so we need other options to rectify this problem. Maybe something like Norway works, like the Norwegian others system of quota amounts, could help alleviate this contentious problem or a quota currency system.

 I would say on reflection although we have lost out in what we have done financially we have learned a great deal from our experience, we have made a few mistakes along the way, that’s inevitable. 

As the landings obligation stands at present with the proposed flexibility's on the table, by 2019 the fleets in our area and probably across Europe, the fleets will be tied up by half way through the year, the supplies of fish will cease and the consequences will ripple through the entire supply chain.

This will result in unemployment, bankruptcies, losses to market share and fish supply shortages, a total disaster! 

However I hope from what we have learned policy makers can get a good grasp of what problems we will encounter and more importantly the reasons why, fisherman’s voices need to be heard more clearly in this process, we have seen first hand the impact this policy will create and it doesn't look good.

The CQT scheme has given us the ability to prove where policy and science is letting the fishery down and for the first time as fisherman we are able to reverse the burden of proof and lead the way. However the challenge now is that, we have to be able to supply even more data and trust into the system so that scientists and policy makers can apply better policies in future.