How much fish can be safely caught?

It is a busy fish week in Brussels, with the European Seafood Exposition going on at the same time as hearings in the European Parliament and Commission. Tuesday morning, the Green group in the parliament held a well-attended seminar which discussed the question: How much fish can be safely caught?

The presentations slides and audio recording of the event are available below this summary.

Sebastian Losada from Greenpeace said “politicians must ask scientists the right questions.” When asking how much fish that can be safely caught, society needs to decide what risk we are willing to take of stocks collapsing, said Losada.

There is money to be made in reducing fishing, said Rainer Froese, researcher at Leibniz Institute of Marine Sciences. Research shows that fish stocks can be four times larger and catches 63 percent higher if European fisheries management were to follow a set of ‘Generic Harvest Control Rules’, which includes staying on the safe side of Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY) with a safety margin.

As of today, Europe is far away from reaching the goal of harvesting fish stocks at the MSY level. This means that if the USA were to apply its laws against overfishing on fish imports from the EU, Europe would lose exports worth 1.2 billion USD annually.

“It is stupid to catch small fish instead of large fish”, Froese further said. Keep fishing pressure down, let the fish grow, and that “investment” in fish stocks will be profitable.

Tony Smith of CSIRO explained the details of how Australia has managed to recover previously overfished stocks by adopting a ‘Harvest Strategy Policy’.

Commissioner Maria Damanaki made an intervention where she said that “if we have the science but don’t have the political courage to follow through, we can have as many regulations as we want: things will only get worse.” Damanaki said she has made it clear to the EU member states that she will not be available for the current carpet trading of ever higher quotas. “I have asked the Council to shoulder its responsibility and to take tough but necessary decisions. There is simply no alternative,” Damanaki said.

Justin Cooke, from the Centre for Ecosystem Management Studies, made a presentation about the shortcomings of MSY compared to concepts such as Realisable average yield (RAY). There is an institutional problem in Europe, Cooke further said. Compared to other countries such as the USA, management science has a low status relative to the political aspects of management in Europe.

Poul Degnbol, ICES, said the role of scientists should not be to set objectives for fisheries management. Setting objectives is a political issue, he said. Politicians should say what target they want to reach, and scientists should then tell politicians what options are available for reaching the targets.

Axel Naver

Presentation slides from the event:
Introduction by Isabella Lövin
Sebastian Losada
Rainer Froese
Tony Smith
Justin Cooke
Poul Degnbol
Maria Damanaki
Background note: The Politics of Fishing – How Council Sets TACs

Listen:

How much fish can be safely caught? Hearing 3 May 2011 by ep-isabella-lovin

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