New study: regionalization will make EU fisheries more sustainable

Norwegian boat docked to deliver fish after a day at sea. Photo: David Nilsen.

Increased regionalization is the best starting point for a new European fisheries policy, according to a study published this week in Marine Policy.

What is it that makes fisheries management in the USA, Canada and Norway more sustainable than in the EU? To answer that question, a group of scientists interviewed stakeholders in these three countries to get a picture of their entire fisheries management systems.

Henrik Österblom

Henrik Österblom

“There are many good ideas that have proved to work with better results than in Europe. Those ideas can be implemented here as well,” said Dr. Henrik Österblom, Stockholm University, main author of the study.

The main policy the EU should look at, according to Henrik Österblom, is regionalization and co-management.

Today, decisions in the EU are made far away from those affected. The examples of Norway and North America show that when fishermen are involved in regional co-management, this leads to increased trust in the policy-making process and contributes to compliance of regulations. There is also an increased legitimacy of scientific advice.

Another point in the study is that the USA has defined ecological sustainability as the highest priority above economical and social goals, but the EU has failed to do so.

“Putting biology first and actually following the scientific advice is fundamental to sustainable fisheries,” said Henrik Österblom.

There are strong links between ecosystems and society. For instance, subsidies contribute to overcapacity and the depletion of stocks. As stocks are fished down, there are increased incentives for illegal fishing. The study describes how the EU is caught in such a negative feedback loop. On the other hand, Norway, Canada and the USA have managed to create positive feedback loops, where sustainable quotas are contributing to recovering stocks, which is reducing the incentives to cheat.

The team of researchers organized workshops and conducted interviews with scientists, managers, policy makers, and representatives from fishing industry and environmental NGOs. While many previous scientific studies have focused on issues such as quotas and subsidies separately, the approach of the current study has been to evaluate how many different fisheries management measures interact.

Axel Naver

Read the study: Österblom H, et al., Incentives, social–ecological feedbacks and European fisheries, Marine Policy (2011)
doi:10.1016/j.marpol.2011.01.018

Video and article from Stockholm Resilience Centre: Getting a failed fisheries policy back on track

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