Prices, data and the CFP
The number of fishing vessels in the Danish fleet has halved over the last 10 years © Danish Fishermen’s Association
Niels Wichmann, managing director of the Danish Fishermen’s Association and the Danish Fishermen’s Producer Organisation (DFPO), talks to Carly Wills about the Danish fishing industry.
According to Mr Wichmann, the Danish fishing industry is "doing alright, given the current conditions". He says that there are wide variations from segment to segment within the fishing industry - many of those who fish for human consumption are under pressure, price-wise, but that is not the case for the pelagic fleet (although a downward trend in prices has also been seen in that area of the industry). The industrial fleet, those fishing for species for fishmeal and fish oil, are also experiencing very good prices.
Mr Wichmann says that the Norwegian-Russian quota of one million tonnes of cod in the Barents Sea sets the price of cod for everywhere else in Europe. And as Norway has lowered the minimum price for cod, this means that Danish fishermen are struggling to get good enough prices for their catch.
Denmark shares quotas with most other countries in Northern Europe, and Mr Wichmann has described the quota situation as very favourable. A recent study by ICES of 46 species over the last 50 years has found that there has been a remarkable downward trend in fishing mortality over the last 10 years in the North Atlantic for virtually all of the species studied, including pelagic, demersal and benthic species. "This is very encouraging in terms of what we hear about 'doom and gloom' and overfishing", says Mr Wichmann.
The Danish fleet has seen tremendous concentration over the last 10 years, which started with the introduction of Individual Transferrable Quotas (ITQs) for pelagic species in 2002, followed by a similar system for most other species in 2007. "I would imagine that we have halved the number of vessels over the last 10 years", said Mr Wichmann. Which means that those remaining need to be made more profitable - encouraging development in terms of new buildings, modernisation of the existing fleet, and pooling vessels together. And it is these vessel pools that Mr Wichmann describes as a great success in terms of fisheries management.
There are around seven 'pools' of vessels in Denmark, and there is no limit on the number of vessels allowed in each pool. The largest of these pools has 287 vessels. The original idea was that the pools would be local, so that the fish caught in a particular region would be sold in that geographical area. Within these pools the pool manager is legally responsible for the pool, and to the authorities a pool counts as one vessel. The quota assigned to the pool can then be shared and traded between the pool members. This is very good for optimising the fishery - for example, if one vessel catches too much of a certain species that is not in his assigned quota, he can buy quota from another pool member who may not be able to fulfil his quota for that species. This system is managed by an online system.
Mr Wichmann says that the pool system works very well and is a good start with regards to preparing for the discards ban, as there is always the pool to fall back on. Denmark is currently the only country with such a system.
In terms of regionalisation under the reform of the Common Fisheries Policy, Mr Wichmann says that the Danish fishing industry has been very active, by being very involved with the Baltic Sea Regional Advisory Council (RAC) and the North Sea RAC, the latter of which Mr Wichmann currently chairs, after being re-elected in October. He also says that Denmark has a very good rapport with the European Commission, but that the country would really like a closer relationship with the fisheries managers, the member states, as well as the scientific community. Mr Wichmann is a firm believer that for future legislation to work, it needs to be built from the bottom up, rather than from the top down, which is why regional fisheries directors around the North Sea are very keen to work together.
Mr Wichmann also says that the regional structure is needed in order to design, along with stakeholders, the rules for a successful discard ban. "We are the only ones who know how it [the discard ban] will work in practice," said Mr Wichmann. "What practical problems we will have to overcome, and how we can find possible solutions to them. Our suggestion is to leave a lot of things to us [the regions] in the first round, and to work out with the other stakeholders, including the green organisations, to see if we can find a way forward. Nobody amongst the politicians, be that in Europe or in the Member States, knows what the implications are of what they have decided, which is a pity.”
Another aspect of the CFP is the common organisation of the market. A minimum price system has been in place for the last 40 years, but now this system is ending. "Our fear is that it will affect the prices paid for fish negatively, seen from our position, that the smaller vessels will get into difficulties. They normally sell their fish at auction, and if there is no bottom price, then what will happen?" said Mr Wichmann.
Previously the Commission had given support to the minimum price system - if a particular quantity of fish could no obtain the minimum price at first sale, the producer organisation would take that quantity out of the market and would pay the fisherman the minimum price. The fish would then not be allowed to be sold for human consumption, so would be made into either fishmeal, fish oil, or into feed for animals. The producer organisation would then receive support for this intervention from the Commission.
The maximum amount of money that the EU has paid out towards this mechanism in any given year has been €2m - "close to nothing in the European budget," says Mr Wichmann. "But the Commission has now decided that it can not use taxpayer's money to destroy fish - which is simply not true. First of all it was a very limited amount of money, and secondly the fish was used for other purposes." But Mr Wichmann has said that they do not need the public funding and has requested that the DFPO be allowed to cover the cost itself, as the importance of the minimum price is not how much has been withdrawn from the market, it the huge quantities of fish that have been sold just above the minimum prices, as the buyers have known what the minimum price was.
Denmark uses the minimum price for some species more than other countries, but all EU countries will be affected by this new legislation.
When asked what he thinks of the CFP reform in general, he replied, "I think it's a mess, not least because of the deadlock that we have between the Council and the European Parliament on a number of issues. I will give you an example - we are all in favour of long term management plans for species, instead of having changes from year to year. There is a long term management plan for cod, which was agreed by the Council of Ministers some years ago. It should have been revised in 2011 but now, following the Lisbon Treaty, the decisions are made between the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament. And they cannot agree on revising the long term management plans, and put them on hold until after the CFP was agreed. We are now at the end of 2013 [at the time of interview] and the cod plan should have been revised two years ago.
"According to the long term management plan for cod, which is no longer a recovery plan, but a management plan now that North Sea cod has recovered, the cod quota must be reduced by 9% in 2014. However, the Commission itself has calculated that because of the positive development in the cod stock it could in fact be increased by 58%. So now we are stuck with this lack of revision, and we don't know what will happen. And when the stock does not recover as fast as the management plan says, we are faced with a reduction of our kilowatt days [the amount of days vessels can be at sea]."
Scientific data and advice is another problem within the European fishing industry - data used to plan future quotas is two years behind. Danish fishermen are helping to gather much-needed data on fish stocks, and a number of programmes are running in collaboration with the scientific institute DTU-Aqua, involving fishermen and scientists. The North Sea Fisherman's Survey has also been running for the last 10 years or so. It is fading out at the moment, but has proved very useful.
Skippers fishing in the North Sea were sent a questionnaire every summer, asking them to assess the development of the different stocks of different species, which they then posted back to the North Sea RAC. The results were then sent off to Shetland to be compiled. A scientist from ICES then took these results from over a number of years and compared them to ICES's own data, and found that there was very high correlation, but that the Danish results were one year ahead of ICES's own data. But Mr Wichmann acknowledges that it is difficult for ICES to include the fishermen's survey in its advice because the information provided by the fishermen does not fit into the models used by ICES to calculate its data. "We can provide all sorts of information from the fishermen," says Mr Wichmann, "but if it cannot be used then it may be a waste of time."
On the subject of sustainability, Denmark is constantly striving to fish more efficiently, and this is ongoing, with a lot of the development being centred around selectivity. This can be a very delicate area as many if the fisheries are mixed species fisheries. However, a lot of the Danish fisheries have addressed this, and Mr Wichmann gives the examples of square mesh panels in the trawls in the Baltic, along with sorting grids in the Norway pout fishery and the shrimp fishery. These developments have been made "partly because of the legal requirement to do so, but also to be practical - you don't want too much fish you can't use", says Mr Wichmann.
He also mentioned the Hirtshalls Flume Tank as an excellent facility for testing new gear types, and there are experiments taking place there all the time. But he also says that there is a limit to what can be done: "The limit is that that if the industry is not profitable then it's not worthwhile," Mr Wichmann says. "At what price can we provide the protein? How much will the consumers pay? The most efficient selectivity is to have no gear at all...but then you catch nothing!"
Denmark has plans for as many as possible, if not all, of its fisheries to become MSC certified. Currently 11 Danish fisheries are MSC certified, with three more in the full assessment phase, which Mr Wichmann says he is very proud of. The MSC [at the time of writing] has 182 certified fisheries, so a respectable percentage of Danish fisheries are certified, one of them being the Baltic cod fishery. Mr Wichmann notes that getting a fishery MSC certified is a very costly exercise. But he says they are doing it because they believe Danish fisheries are sustainable, and that if they do have to make changes to gain certification then it will be an advantage. Hopefully in the long run it will be a price advantage, he says, but in the short term it will allow certified fisheries access to the market.
A number of retailers (on behalf of the consumers) are now saying that they want sustainably caught fish only, "so we need to have access to Lidl or Carrefour, or whoever it is," says Mr Wichmann, "as we export 90% of our catch. The Danish consumer doesn't eat Danish fish!"
This is something that Denmark is addressing with the Prøv med fisk (Try with fish) campaign, which is encouraging consumers to replace meat in their burgers, lasagnes, pasta and lunchboxes with fish, twice a week.