Poland and the EU’s fisheries policy

I have on my desk two superbly illustrated publications representing a joint effort by the Polish Sea Research Institute (MIR, www.mir.gdynia.pl) and the Polish branch of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and published by the latter (www.wwf.pl).

They both deal with the effects of the EU-sponsored reduction of fishing capacity in the Baltic Sea. Together they create a clear picture of the chain of events occurring in the Polish Baltic fishery since joining EU and of some of the problems.

The first, ‘Less Boats – more fish?’ (120pp), by E Kuzebski and B Marciniak of MIR, is an attempt at assessing not only the effect of the massive scrapping of Polish fishing boats on fish resource, but also the financial and socio-economic consequences of the whole exercise.

There are four new member states, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, in which fleet reduction was particularly expensive. A total of €187m paid from national and EU funds was spent to reduce some 15% of the total GT of the vessels registered in 2004. This sum was equal to about 20% of the annual catch value of those countries. In Poland alone the amount of money spent was almost double the fisheries annual income.

The feasibility of the capacity reduction in Poland appears to be rather doubtful, since the funds spent on scrapping vessels “were almost twelve times higher than the increase of the value of cash flow noted between 2004 and 2007 and at the same time six times higher than the GCF (Gross Cash Flow) of the fleet achieved in 2007”.

It appears that the maximum compensation rates allowed by the EU and adopted in Poland have been far from the economic reality in the country. Consequently, for its financial convenience to many boat owners, the level of fleet scrapping in Poland was very high.

Altogether Poland scrapped 440 formerly active vessels, with total engine power of 59,000kW, and 17,500GT, which was a third of the number of vessels and almost a half of the tonnage of the Polish Baltic fleet at the time of joining EU. However, this record-setting reduction partly misfired. Most of the scrapping money went unnecessarily to the pelagic fleet, which shrunk to such a degree that it was unable to utilise the full quota of herring and sprat allotted to Poland. On the other hand, the main problem of excess capacity in the cod fleet remained unsolved.

Poland is taking a majority share in the funding of the 2007-2013 program for the Baltic fleet’s reduction, and its average financial aid for sea fisheries in 2007-2013 is twice the 2007 income of this sector. It has planned to spend, during 2009-2013, €225m on ‘fleet adaptation’, half of which is going for vessels withdrawal from fishing.

The financing conditions for further scrapping of vessels have been still softened, and according to the authors, will not remarkably decrease the average age of vessels because of the lack of clear criteria for selection of vessels for scrapping. Some of the owners, who took the opportunity to scrap their older vessels for good money, used it to recondition and re-fit their other vessels. In addition, this procedure may have “important negative social consequences (loss of jobs)”.This publication is available at: www.wwf.pl/raportnzpen.

The other, 88pp booklet entitled ‘Impacts of the EU Structural Funds on the Fleet and Fish Resources in the Baltic Fisheries Sector’ was written by J Horbowy, E Kuzebski, both MRI scientists and M Rucinski from the Polish Representation to the EU. It represents mainly an analysis of the statistical data collected between 1970 and 2005 of catches by species and by Baltic Sea coastal states, and of the strength of their fishing fleets in terms of numbers of vessels, their GT tonnage and engine power. It also reports on the extent of the involvement of the EU’s Financial Instrument for Fisheries Guidance (FIFG) in both the withdrawal of old and the construction of new fishing vessels in the eight coastal states (Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia). It is available at: www.wwf.pl/informacje/publikacje/rybolostwo/fifg_baltyk_eng.pdf.

Among the rich statistical data contained, it reports that between 1994 and 2005 the FIFG co-financed the scrapping of fishing vessels of the above eight countries to total tonnage of 58,000GT and 272,000hp, but at the same time supported construction of new fishing vessels to the total tonnage of 25,000GT and 176,000hp.

The authors couldn’t establish any relationship between fleet size reduction and fishing mortality, except in some herring stocks in which the fishing mortality decreased. They also produced simulation models to predict how different rates of fleet scrapping may support stock recovery, based on several assumptions, with quite a large variance between the ‘optimistic’ assumption that the stock recovery will be equal to the fleet reduction and the ‘conservative’ one.

Back to the real world, they found that fishing quotas have failed to achieve a reduction in fishing mortality, among others, because the sometimes unreported actual catch often exceeds the allowable quotas, in some cases by up to 100%. Their recommendation: backup the quotas with effort regulation, though, according to the authors, management by effort alone may also prove ineffective mainly due to non-compliance. Another recommendation is to prevent scrapping efforts being undermined by provisions for building new or modernising existing vessels.

While the authors of ‘Less boats – more fish?’ took the trouble to interview fishermen and their representatives and present their opinions, in the later publication fishermen are almost absent. They are referred to only in the context of the relation between the rate of scrapping provisions and their willingness to jump on the bandwagon.

Looking at the above and other information on Polish fisheries, one cannot escape the feeling that joining the EU brought about a clash between those among the fisheries management system who believe in following the EU’s policies and ICES’ recommendations and most fishermen-stakeholders, who think that they are, to that or another degree, wrong.

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