SPECIAL REPORT: Limping fisheries management
Fishing vessels in the Port of Galilee in Narragansett, Rhode Island
It proved to be effective in fleets shrinking, consolidation of fishing rights and quotas in lesser hands, and in reducing employment onboard and in fishing communities. However, with only a few exceptions, its claims of improving safety, resource protection and rehabilitation have been straying in circles between imaginary and fallacious.
One country where so far there has been not much noise about fishery management is Russia. During the Soviet era, the main occupation of the USSR's fishery science was to locate prolific fishing grounds, follow schools and major mobile concentrations of migrating fishes, and guide its fishing fleets to them. The Soviet science focused on fishery oceanography and was seeking – and finding – correlations between physical and biological conditions and their changes in the ecosystem with fish behaviour and availability. Russian research vessels used to be much busier with fishery reconnaissance than with fishery assessment surveys. But, nowadays, also Russia with its long coasts and much more limited access to foreign fishing grounds evidently starts examining the western-style fishery management and using its terminology.
In October this year, the Kaliningrad State Technical University, which is the senior academic institution in the country teaching and studying commercial fisheries, will hold an International Scientific and Technical Conference dedicated to the 125th Anniversary of Birth of the Distinguished Scientist and Technologist of the Russian Federation Prof. F.I. Baranov. Out of the five themes of the conference, two are about fishing technology, but the other three seem to get into the gist of fisheries management problems: one is asking whether ecologically balanced fishery is myth or reality? The second one will deal with the problems of management of commercial fisheries resources, and the third one is asking: how to improve estimation, accuracy and reliability of stock-assessment methodologies?
Scientists of VNIRO, which is the main Russian scientific research institution for fisheries and oceanography, have been questioning even before some of the western official fishery science, but due to language barrier not much of it gained the attention of international professionals and media. Some years ago, L. B. Klyashtorin and A. A. Lyobushin in a book published in English, demonstrated how the populations of the main commercial fishes fluctuate with climatic variations, fishing effort notwithstanding. More recently, O. M. Lapshin, on the basis of in-depth analysis of fishing surveys and stock assessments carried out in Russia; found that the use of mathematical modelling for commercial stocks' assessment is of little effect, without constructing a commercial-ichthyologic model that would comprise data also on distribution and behaviour of the surveyed populations. Incidentally, fishery independent multiannual cycles in fish abundance have also been recently confirmed by leading Canadian scientists with respect to Pacific salmon. They found that for many years, due to irrational management limitations, zillions of fish had been lost to British Columbian fishermen.
While the Russian fishery management science seems to be still in the stage of transit from serving as the tool for maximising catches to that for resources management, fisheries management establishments in some countries are increasingly facing problems of acceptance and compliance by stakeholders. Worldwide, including in the USA, and the EU, an intense dispute is going on two fronts: 1) the fishery industry and independent scientists are questioning the adequacy of the science on which management measures are based; and 2) small-scale private enterprises in fisheries are getting up against fisheries management’s policies and regulations that do not protect the rights of small and medium scale fishermen-boat-owners to fish in inshore and coastal waters, undisturbed by industrial fleets, and against the various quota systems that lead to consolidation of fishing rights and access to fish resources in the hands of a few and powerful at the expense of many.
In the USA a noisy brouhaha is boiling. This, because the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) under its present leadership is onerously promoting its controversial ‘catch shares’, which are nothing else but a tradable quota system. Management by quotas – say its critics from among the industry and independent social scientists - inevitably leads to accumulation of fishing rights and benefits in the hands of large-scale operators. Somehow their initial quotas always shrink, and small owners eventually find themselves in financial situations that force them to rent out or sell their quotas and even their boats to bigger owners and corporate interests. Quota systems turn small fishermen-owners into pensioners, hired hands, and even paupers, which in turn causes displacement of communities and even cultures, or transform basically honest fishermen into‘criminals’. Coast-to-coast fishermen and their representatives complain and initiate all sorts of activities against NOAA's catch shares. A few months ago, they could note a victory, because the Congress forbade NOAA to use its 2011 budget funds for promoting catch shares. NOAA's enforcement machinery was recently accused by Federal Inspector for unlawful and exaggeratedly harsh enforcement, and illegal spending of penalties proceedings.
While the latter wrongdoing had been partially put right with fines refunded and the NOAA head, Professor Jane Lubchenko apologising to the affected fishermen, it seems that she won't budge with respect to the catch shares' push. The critics of this system, like N. Caroline skipper Ernie Foster, insist that it has no conservation advantage, but is about giving the right to harvest fish to a select few, and about privatising the ocean.
Mr Foster, like other critics, such as Nils Stolpe (fishnetlite.blogspot.com), who's running a blog and a website known for defending fishermen against unjustified management steps, Dick Grachek, skipper/boat owner from Point Judith, Rhode Island, Tina Jackson, President of the American Alliance of Fishermen and their Communities (AAFC), and others, blame an NGO, the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), as the driving force behind the catch-shares concept. They dismiss the EDF's claim that the purpose of its promoting catch shares is concern about resource conservation. It appears that EDF, which Professor Lubchenko used to be a Vice-President of, told the national conference of investment brokers and venture capitalists to spread the word about catch shares as an investment opportunity, which equals to selling fishing rights on Wall Street.
Tradable quotas have afflicted fisheries in many countries. In South Africa, the 2005 government policy on the Allocation and Management of Long Term Commercial Fishing Rights largely excluded small-scale fishermen, leading to increased poverty and family breakdowns, and the fishing quota system caused divisions and grief within communities. The large commercial fisheries ‘took more than half the cake’ when it came to quota allocation and the quotas allocated to small fishermen were hardly enough for them to survive on. Some years ago, some American fishermen visited New Zealand, which pioneered the quota system. "The quota management system is a very well run system,” one of them reported. "It’s great for the fish; it’s great for the management; it's horrible for fishermen".
Iceland & New Zealand
Iceland, along with New Zealand, has pioneered Individual Transferable Quotas (ITQ). Since ITQs were introduced in Iceland in 1984, the industry underwent stormy transformation, due to the initial quota allocation and its tradability that led to reduction of the fleet and of employment in the fishing and fish processing industry. Financially, the system worked well, the quota concentrated into fewer and fewer hands, and tax revenues were at an all time high. The Icelandic economy depending on fish, the conservative Government was interested in a ‘lean and efficient’ fishing industry.
Notwithstanding, there was never consensus in Iceland about the quota issue. Since employment levels were not on the political agenda in Iceland, people had to leave the smaller, outlying fishing villages and towns, for quotas were being sold to companies that were based in the larger ports and traded on the stock market. The cost of buying fish quota has become absolutely beyond the means of individual fishermen. Full and partial closedown of whole communities, with many residents unemployed and dislocated, and whose houses lost their value, was only one of the negative consequences of the ITQs.
Well, it all went well enough for some company owners and the Icelandic Treasury, until the 2008 financial debacle of the Icelandic economy, to which the consolidation and swell-headed conduct of its fishing industry significantly contributed. Ever since, the consequences and the future of the quota system have become a central issue in the ongoing, fiery debate as to how the new government should manage fisheries. One of the reforms considered is ending the open and free permanent transfer of quotas between fishing companies. Another one is gradual recalling of the quotas from its present owners, spread over a period of several years. Doubtless, redistribution of quotas would be difficult in a system where quotas have acquired a status of private property, especially in view of a powerful opposition of national and international interests.
When the former EU Fisheries Commissioner, Joe Borg, was about to leave his job, he admitted that the European Common Fishery Policy (CFP) doesn't work, and suggested to replace the ITQ system with the input control management successfully applied in the Faroe Island. Maria Damanaki, the present Commissioner, has been pushing for reforming the CFP. While she's riding high on a ‘ban discards’ mule, the CFP reformation agenda doesn't seem to be dealing with the root causes for the discards and for all sorts of defiance: the individual quota system, especially where it's applied in combination with time-at-sea limitations, and single-species management in multi-species fisheries. Instead, the ‘big-brother’ approach is proposed, such as on-board observers, and automatic cameras.
The UK fishing industry has never been happy with the EU's CFP to say the least, with most vocal protests coming from Scotland. Last May, it was an MP from the Scottish National Party, who blasted the ITQ programme of the CFP for its disastrous effects on both fish and the fishing industry.
“It could spell the slow death of fishing industry in Scotland,” said Angus MacNeil in the Commons. “The internationally tradable ITQ will mean the slow buying off of future generations' fishing rights by big industry fishing.” Scottish skippers have been recently asking what sort of science and management is curtailing quotas off the West Coast, in spite of the fact that they observe obvious revival of healthy stocks all over.
It seems that in Britain the realisation that the conviction that fish resources can be managed by regulating just fishing is simply wrong has been somehow creeping into the government's establishment. This time the ‘breakthrough’ came unexpectedly from Seafish (the UK authority in charge of fisheries management), which agreed with the report by International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO) on the most important negative human impacts on the marine environment. It listed pollution, hypoxia, anoxia, ocean warming and acidification as key stressors of the marine environment, and notably brought up the negative synergetic effect of the numerous factors, fishing only one of them on the environment.
The more a fishery is managed, as those in West European and North American countries, Australia and New Zealand, the more controversial are the employed management measures in the eyes of fishing people, other stakeholders, and independent scientists. The thesis that fisheries management and administration worldwide has become a business in its own right, with a vested interest in its own expansion and perpetuation in accordance with Parkinson’s Law, found a new corroboration in a recent article in the Gloucester Times. Richard Gaines wrote there that 31 years ago in the port of Gloucester (Mass., USA) regional fisheries office had about one third the employees, but served three times as many commercial fishing boats than the roughly 60 there are today.
One can only hope that with time and continuing pressure, a management system would arise, which would protect small and medium scale fishermen and their communities from being dislocated under false pretences from their natural resources and way of life.
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