The Commission is criticised for falsely claiming that proposed Baltic Sea fishing limits are in line with scientific advice.
A couple of weeks ago the Commission presented its proposal for fishing limits in the Baltic Sea for 2016.
The total allowable catch (TAC) for cod in the Eastern Baltic should be 41 143 tonnes, according to the proposal. The Commission press release says this is ”in line with ICES’ advice”. (ICES is the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, a scientific organisation.)
The ICES advice
This has prompted reactions. ”.@EU_Commission falsely claiming that proposed #balticsea fishing limit is in line with scientific advice”, environmental organisation Pew tweeted last week.
The reason for the criticism is that the advice from ICES differs from the Commission proposal. In their latest advice on the Eastern Baltic cod, ICES writes: ”ICES advises that when the precautionary approach is applied, catches in 2016 for the eastern Baltic cod stock should be no more than 29 220 tonnes.”
The Commission’s directorate for Maritime and Fisheries has responded to the criticism on Twitter: ”Proposed cod quota was -20%, as stock is data limited. This is in line with ICES approach for data limited stocks”
Comparing apples (quota) and oranges (catches)
So, how have the Commission and ICES arrived at their respective figures?
The Commission has cut 20 percent from last year’s total allowable catch, which was 51 429 tonnes.
ICES has cut 20 percent from the amount of fish that was actually caught last year (as described in Table 22.214.171.124 of their advice).
“The Commission mixes words and facts”
”It is very unfortunate and rather sensational that the Commission claims they are acting in line with ICES’ advice. They are using the figure 20 percent, which appears in ICES reduction model, but they are not withdrawing these 20 percent from the correct starting figure and land in a TAC much higher than in ICES advice. During this time when everybody is discussing sustainable catch limits, it does not help that the Commission mixes words and facts like this”, said Nils Höglund, fisheries policy officer at Coalition Clean Baltic.
Commission spokesperson Enrico Brivio acknowledges that the difference stems from the fact that ICES apply the 20% reduction to catches while the Commission proposes it on quota level (TAC).
”The proposed cod quota was -20%. This is in line with the ICES approach for data limited stocks such as eastern cod.”, Enrico Brivio wrote in an email.
The ICES “approach for data limited stocks” is a document also known as ICES Advice basis.
“No overfishing is likely”
”It is also in line with the Commission’s ’policy statement’ on the 2016 fishing opportunities, which states that, where ICES can only provide a ’data-limited’ assessment: ’In absence of MSY assessment … the Commission intends to use the ICES advice on these stocks and consider the situation on a case-by-case basis, taking into account the precautionary approach.’ This is what the Commission has done. It took into account that the quota is underutilized (recently 35% of the quota), and that the expected underutilization will mean that the actual outtake of fish is in line with the precautionary approach. In other word, no overfishing is likely to occur if the Commission’s proposal is accepted”, Enrico Brivio wrote.
Nils Höglund points out that in the press release for the 2016 fishing limits, the Commission does not refer to the ICES approach for data limited stocks, but to the ICES advice.
”These are two different things. The Commission is confusing the issue, which is unfortunate. It would be all right if they said ’we hear what ICES are saying, but we will go ahead and propose something else based on a different approach’, because then the references would be clear”, Nils Höglund said.
“One becomes increasingly suspicious”
This criticism comes on top of another recent row over scientific advice. In April the Commission drew criticism for a misleading interpretation of the scientific advice in the context of the ongoing negotiations on a new long-term fisheries management plan for the Baltic Sea.
”It all adds up. For each time that the Commission makes obscure interpretations and confusing references, one becomes increasingly suspicious. It is regrettable that the Commission is not clearly defending the principles of the fisheries policy reform, instead they almost act like they are trying to work their way around the new policy”, Nils Höglund said.
Member states are currently assessing the Commission’s proposal for catch limits, and are due to make a decision at a meeting with ministers 22–23 October.