Faroese management in the balance

07 Aug 2017
Pair Team

The Faroese pair trawl fleet is among those that have operated successfully under the days-at-sea system since it was implemented twenty years ago

‪Eleven years ago I wrote on this page: "During 1994-95, the Faroese fisheries have been managed by the quota system, introduced due to Denmark’s pressure and local compliance. The Faroese people, however, soon perceived both the operation and consequences of this system as leading towards economic, social and with – over 90% of the country’s foreign trade coming from fishing - a national debacle. Consequently, the Faroese government decided to get rid of the quota system. The price to pay was leaving the EU system, which as it now appears was hardly a mistake."‬

In June 1996, the current effort (input) management system was implemented. Accordingly, fishing days (DAS) were allocated to all fleets fishing in depths of less than 380m. In addition, the majority of the shallow areas of less than 200m were closed to trawling, allocated to mainly longliners and jiggers. During spawning periods, most cod spawning areas have been closed for nearly all gears. Fishing days are tradable and exchangeable, but only within groups of vessels licensed for the same fishing method. Hence, Faroese fisheries have been managed by effort control.

This Faroese common-sense management, also promoted by Icelandic fishery scientist, Jón Kristjánsson, and, in particular the wise decision to part with the EU’s output approach, have led to increased landings of the Faroese fisheries, thus humbling the ICES “scientific” advice. Hence, Faroese fleets have been annually landing some half a million of tonnes of pelagic and demersal fish. Not bad at all for an island nation with population of about 50,000 people.

Choice of either management system that's roughly speaking either by effort or by quotas has its important social outcomes. The situation is that, as I have said before, we don't manage fish, all we can do is to manage people – and these are the people who enjoy our management efforts or suffer from them. Hence, we must ask who benefits from the selected management method?

Well, there are financial benefits and social benefits. An assessment of financial benefits is a straightforward bookkeeping matter, setting out industry earnings.

Social benefits are a different matter. Most people associate the term "social benefits” with how benefits derived from national resources are distributed across society. They ask, for example, how many people make a living from a certain resource. Thus, a “less efficient” small-scale fishery that for equal yield employs many more people than an “efficient” big-owner fleet, may deliver less cash to the national purse, but as a rule is directly and effectively more beneficial to people and their communities. Only an in-depth analysis can establish which option would produce truer benefit values. Thus, who defines national and social benefits, and how, is of some consequence.

But now changes are being made again to the Faroese fisheries management regime. The political parties forming the Faroese government have reached agreement on a new Parliamentary Fisheries Management bill, with the new (output) regime slated to begin on the first of January of next year, although doubt has now been cast on the shape this will finally take.

Under the new proposals, in most instances quotas will replace days-at-sea. 25% of quotas for mackerel, herring and blue whiting will be sold at auction to the highest bidder, as will 25% of Faroese demersal quotas in the Barents Sea, on Flemish Cap and off East Greenland. The remaining 75% is allocated to those with existing track records in this fishery and if these quotas are increased over their 2018 level, then the additional allocations are to be auctioned. A tax will be levied on quotas that are not auctioned.

The Parliamentary bill also includes items dealing with limits on quota holdings and overseas ownership of fishing companies that are expected to be removed in stages over the next four years. It appears that the Faroese are reverting to the previous ICES management ways they so wisely and courageously abandoned.

So, what the hell has been happening? I'm afraid that, as usual, one needs to look for the eternal and universal cause: the money and where is it going.

Now fish quotas may become a main problem. For example, if one has quota for one species but another, then there is scope for choke species – something that the days-at-sea system ensured was a non-existent problem, as well as eliminating the problems of high-grading and other ills that are inevitable in an output-based regime.

The auctioning idea is disturbing – fishermen-owners of boats and gear, but who didn't bid high enough would be left without quota. A young fisherman, or a newcomer, who want to get into the business, might've been already in debt after acquiring or overhauling a boat, and if they bid too high, they could find themselves on the way to bankruptcy.

In general, while fishermen know how to catch fish, they aren't experts in manoeuvring investments and loans, and manipulating financial nuances. When fishing is good, everyone, including government, gets a share, but when times are hard, often fishing is left to take care of itself...