Explaining the misunderstandings about MSY: why it’s possible tomorrow

A seminar in the European Parliament on Wednesday shed some light on one of the more complicated concepts of the fisheries policy reform – MSY – and suggested transitional funding to get there.

[Power point slides and audio below]
Much debate has been stirred over the Commission’s proposal that EU fish stocks should be restored above levels that can produce Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY) by 2015. Some Members States have indicated that this is not possible.

But the concept of MSY covers both biomass and fishing mortality – and while reaching the biomass target by 2015 would be impossible for many stocks, the mortality target can indeed be reached.

First, an explanation of two concepts: Bmsy is the biomass (the weight of all fish) that a fish stock must have so that it can produce MSY. Fmsy is the fishing mortality (the amount of fish that die from fishing) that would let the fish grow to the stock size Bmsy.

The benefits of MSY
“What shocked me when I started studying European fisheries, was that the fishing pressure applied in Europe was 2.5 times higher than it should,” said fisheries scientist Rainer Froese at a seminar held in the European Parliament on Wednesday.

“If all stocks were managed on MSY we would get around 13 million tonnes of fish each year. Today, we get only half of that, and it’s declining,” Rainer Froese said.

He went on to explain that EU member states have a legal obligation to reach MSY, because they have signed international agreements such as the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and the Johannesburg declaration.

Stocks with biomass above MSY would mean higher and more stable catches and higher profits for the industry as well as healthy marine ecosystems, Froese said. The problem is how to get there.

The faster we get to MSY, the larger the profits would be, according to economists. Stopping fishing altogether for one to three years would be the fastest way, but even a small reduction in catches leads to a large increase in biomass, Froese said.

A clarification on the Commission’s proposal
“We have found out in the last few months that many people think that the Commission has taken an extremely strict stance on MSY by leaving out the words that it should be the goal ‘where possible’,” said Commission official Joost Paardekooper.

This is a misunderstanding, he said. While the Johannesburg convention says that the biomass Bmsy should be achieved by 2015 ‘where possible’, the Commission wants to reach the fishing pressure Fmsy by that year, which means initial reductions in catch levels that are not as drastic as with Bmsy.

“We have chosen this gradual approach because the Commission also has a social responsibility. We cannot have a extreme disruptive measures, it is not socially responsible and often has often not proved necessary,” Joost Paardekooper said.

Fishermen forced to reach yet a new summit
Javier Garat, head of the fishermen’s organisation Europêche, said that fishermen in general do not discuss MSY and do not understand MSY.

While MSY is an obligation in several international agreements, “we should remember that until just two or three years ago this was not really the objective in the European Union. In the management plans put in place after the 2002 CFP reform, the objective was safe biological limits (SBL), not MSY,” Javier Garat said.

He gave the example of the Northern hake recovery plan, which was established with the target of safe biological limits (SBL). Fishing was reduced, boats were scrapped and jobs were lost and as a result the fish recovery was very high.

“Fishermen were trying to climb a mountain with SBL as the top,” Javier Garat said. “Some were out of business. When we reached the top, complying with the recovery plan, doing better than expected, suddenly we were told ‘sorry guys, now you have to go to the next top’, which was MSY. Fishermen didn’t understand this, but this was the reality of policy.”

Of course, Javier Garat said, it is impossible to be against a situation with MSY where catches and profits are higher because fish stocks have been rebuilt. But, he asked, “what do we do with the fishermen who have to reduce their fishing in the transitional period?”

Transitional loans
“One option is that politicians can give fishermen a no interest rate loan in return for staying in port, to be repaid once stocks have grown and the fishery can resume. I think this is what you should demand,” Rainer Froese said.

MEP Chris Davies said he saw a scenario where a member state can arrange with banks to have guarantees for a loan, and MEP Isabella Lövin said that considering the speed of fish recovery and considering the amount of subsidies already going into fisheries, some of the money could be redirected to this kind of loans.

The Australian case of Maximum Economic Yield
Nick Rayns, Executive Manager of the Australian Fisheries Management Authority gave a presentation on Australian fisheries management, where a major change was made in 2005.

“We want to achieve Maximum Economic Yield (MEY). We did not want to take as much fish as we could, but as the amount of fish that will give the best profit,” Nick Rayns said.

Australia applies the criterion that there should be less than 10% chance that stocks fall below their targets.

The biomass of MEY (Bmey) is larger than of MSY (Bmsy). It is easier for the industry to catch the fish and that maximises the return the industry gets from the fishery.

The introduction of the new system was coupled with a buy-out scheme where fishermen were compensated for leaving the fishery. After 2005 there has been an increase in profits in Australia.

>> Download Rainer Froese’s Power Point presentation (PDF)
>> Download Nick Rayns’ Power Point presentation (PDF)
>> Article by Nick Rayns on the Australian system (Ices Journal)

>> Read a more detailed summary of the seminar (PDF)
>> View images from the seminar (Flickr)

>> Audio – Froese’s presentation (MP3)
>> Audio – Garat’s presentation (MP3)
>> Audio – Rayn’s presentation (MP3)
>> Audio – Paardekooper’s presentation (MP3)

>> Audio – All the presentations in FRENCH (MP3)

Axel Naver

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