Effort Limitation in the Shellfish Fisheries: NFFO Policy


At a meeting in London on 9th March 2010, the NFFO Shellfish Committee reviewed its policy approach to the issue of limitation on fishing effort in the crab and lobster pot fisheries in the waters around the UK.

Following extensive and detailed discussions, the Committee adopted the policy described below.


The review of NFFO policy took place against the background of:

  • The deliberations of the UK and Ireland Crab Working Group
  • Meetings in Paris (28th January 2010) and Edinburgh ( ) of Irish, Scottish and English crab interests
  • Publication of the report The Future on Management of the Brown Crab Fisheries by Nautilus Consultants
  • Cefas Assessment of the Brown Crab Fisheries Edible Crab Stock Assessment And Fishery Status Reports 2009

Conservation Status of the Brown Crab Stocks

After a thorough review of the scientific stock assessments for the stocks of Brown Crab exploited by the UK fleet, and noting the range of uncertainties and complexities associated with this advice, the NFFO Shellfish Committee agreed:

  • Of the Brown crab stocks that are known at present, it is reasonable to conclude that fishing effort is currently at, or close to the top of the potential of the fishery. Additional effort is likely to increase expenses in exploiting the fishery, lead to space conflicts and reduced average earnings for those in the fishery, all other things being equal
  • That the current level of effort is as much as is needed to exploit the fishery and it would be prudent at this stage to find ways of placing an overall cap on effort

Effort Limitation: Principles

Against this background, the Committee takes the view that it would be desirable to find a reasonably unobtrusive way to cap fishing effort in the brown crab fishery, acknowledging that any measures in this regard would apply also to the lobster fishery.

It was agreed that the effort cap should by applied in ways that are compatible with the following principles:

  • A national framework which follows a results-based approach through which broad objectives are defined nationally, whilst regional bodies design and apply tailored implementation measures)
  • A strong regional basis to the approach with flexibility to tailor measures in ways that are specific to the fisheries concerned
  • A stepwise approach that deals initially, with latent effort in the shellfish sector, before going on to cap effort in the active shellfish fleet

Elements of an Effort Limitation Scheme

Latent Effort

It seems to make little sense to curb the expansion of the active shellfish fleet, if it is still possible for inactive or low-activity shellfish licences to be attached to vessels which subsequently increase their fishing effort in this fishery. If the purpose of an effort cap is to be met, dealing with latent effort in the shellfish fisheries will have to be a precondition.

Given the importance of the shellfisheries to the inshore sector and the current SAIF initiative, which amongst other items, has been tasked to address the issue of latent capacity in the under 10 metre whitefish sector, we would argue that the issue of latent capacity in the shellfisheries should be part of a broad approach aimed at putting the whole inshore sector on a sustainable footing.

Accepting the present difficult state of public finances, we nevertheless make the case for to a publically funded, one-off adjustment, to take out latent capacity in the shellfish sector. There is no disguising that this will be expensive but it is important to set this in context against the high cost of repeated policy failures that have afflicted management measures. Breaking free of the cycle of past policy failures will require a decisive and novel approach which addresses both governance and overcapacity issues.

It is difficult to see how a solution the endemic problems of the under 10 metre whitefish fleet and the linked issue of latent capacity in the shellfish sector, can be achieved without recognising that even inactive licences have an economic value. A licence buyout /and where relevant a decommissioning scheme, properly managed, would put these fleets on a solid footing for a profitable and sustainable future. Without such an adjustment it is likely that fisheries policy in both of these sectors will continue to flounder.

Effort Limitation

On the assumption that the issue of latent capacity is dealt with, we could envisage and support an effort limitation that:

  • Operates within a broad framework set at national level
  • Delegates the main design and implementation features to regional bodies (in the case of England, for the inshore zone, this would probable mean the Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authorities).

In other words, through appropriate enabling legislation, it would be a national obligation on regional managers to apply limitations to ensure that a cap is placed on effort in the shellfisheries within their area of jurisdiction; but the form of those limitations, whether a pot limitation scheme or other means, would be decided and implemented at the regional level. This approach would have a number of advantages:

  • It would place an overall cap on fishing effort in the crab and lobster fisheries, simultaneously improving the economic outlook and applying a precautionary approach for the shell fisheries
  • It would avoid a cumbersome, complex, top-down, highly bureaucratic superstructure that we see as the primary objection to an effort limitation scheme
  • It would be tailored to the particularities of the individual shell fisheries in the regions
  • It could meet the obligation to limit effort in the crab and lobster fisheries in ways that met local requirements from a menu that could include:
    • limitation on pots
    • tie-up scheme
    • catch limits per vessel
  • The menu approach would extend to the way in which regional managers:
    • Set the terms of any pot limitation scheme in its area of jurisdiction, including the cap on the number of pots deployed by any vessel
    • Fixed the arrangements for monitoring and policing any pot limitations in place
    • Applied any licence succession policy (for example, fully tradable licence permits, or licences that are surrendered on retirement, or specific arrangements for young entrants)
  • Following the observation that pot limits within limited geographical areas (and within a three dimensional marine environment) faces intrinsic enforcement challenges, and that the most successful pot limitation schemes (in Jersey and Brittany) are those with a high degree of commitment and involvement by the local fishing industry, the regionalised approach advocated here lends itself to a high degree of industry buy-in, in a way that a broad national scheme never could
  • By placing an overall cap on any future expansion on the shell fisheries but avoiding an intrusive effort reduction regime, it should be possible to avoid the perverse consequences that seem to be an intrinsic aspect of all effort reduction systems: this is the adjustment of fishing activities to offset economic disadvantage. In the case of the shell fisheries this could mean the type and size of pot or the intensity with which they are fished.


The arrangements described above relate primarily to the inshore zone, although there is an important debate to be had on whether for shellfish management purposes this jurisdiction should mean 6 or 12 nautical miles.

  • It is recognised that the offshore zone is different and requires a separate tailored approach. The offshore fishery comprises two main components:
    • Vessels that operate essentially as an extension of an inshore shellfishery but part of their portfolio of fishing locations are located offshore. Thus a vessel may operate pots in the 0-6 miles zone, 6 to 12 mile zone as well as offshore 20 or 40 miles from shore
    • The larger, more or less nomadic, vessels frequently using vivier tanks, that constitute the bulk of landings in the Brown Crab fishery
  • A further reference point in considering effort limitation in the offshore fishery is the recognition outside the 6 mile limit of its inherently international dimension

It is also important to recognise that important steps towards self-regulation by the principal operators in the offshore crab fishery, on an international basis, are in motion following meetings in Paris, Edinburgh and London. This important initiative is entirely compatible with the main thrust of this paper. Both advocate:

    • a results focused approach
    • measures tailored to specific fisheries
    • a high degree of involvement and support from the shellfish industry
    • A focus that marries economic realities and sustainability

Against this background, and bearing in mind that the offshore Brown Crab interests are currently fine tuning the terms of a consensus based, voluntary agreement to limit crab production on a seasonal basis, we consider that given the international dimension of the offshore fishery this is likely to be the most effective and the most relevant initiative in the offshore fishery for the foreseeable future and should be strongly and vigorously supported.

It may be desirable that these discussions find a semi-permanent home, possibly within the North-West Waters Regional Advisory Council, where they could be nurtured and supported as a basis for a voluntary, industry driven initiative that aligns itself with the overall objective of harvesting crab sustainably.


The policy approach outlined above is:

  • forward looking
  • comprehensive
  • aligned with the apparent direction of both Defra policy and CFP reform
  • focused on a results-based approach
  • Emphasises a strong regional dimension
  • Advocates a transfer of responsibilities and decision making from centralised management, closer to the fisheries that are managed.

The alignment of effort constraints in the crab and lobster fisheries, along with a decisive, effective but fair approach to the issue of latent capacity, will be the principal criteria that will determine whether the future of the shellfisheries is one of sustainable and profitable exploitation or whether it will be characterised by stagnation and recurring conservation problems.