The NFFO takes stock of what happened to the Future of Inshore Fisheries Initiative. Amid Covid and the general post-TCA gloom, many are wondering what happened to the Future of Inshore Fisheries initiative. The vivid flash of inspiration and optimism when fishers and managers got together, in October 2019, for the wildly successful FOIF conference seems like an eternity ago. Since then, we have been through the mill and there has been a disturbing silence about the follow up to the conference. The UK’s failure to secure an exclusive 12-mile limit seems like a nail in the coffin lid for the project.
Was co-management just a word?
Are we fated to carry on with our incoherent, ineffectual, inshore management regime that is so utterly unloved by fishers, managers and fisheries scientists, because we don’t have the energy or initiative to break out of it?
Not Quite Dead
Despite the relative silence, it would be premature to pronounce the patient deceased. In the background, the wheels are turning. They turn slower than we would like but the lessons learnt over those two days in London, when fishermen and managers shared ideas and experiences have not been lost. They inform a programme of work with several strands that will one day, hopefully not too far away, begin to bear fruit in our inshore fisheries.
So, what has happened since the Conference?
1. The report of the conference was published and provides an important guide for the future; all that knowledge and experience has not been lost
2. A steering group was established and determined efforts have been made to include working fishermen, with direct experience of fishing in inshore waters in that group.
3. Fisheries managers, in the form of senior Defra officials have remained committed to the initiative
4. An action plan has been agreed
5. Progress has been made on mapping the maze of existing rules that apply in our inshore fisheries, as a prelude to understanding where change is required
6. Another mapping exercise is under way to understand the complexity of gears, fleets and target species in the various overlapping inshore fisheries – vital to define what it is we are trying to manage; these mapping exercises are perhaps best understood as ground-clearing exercises – unexciting but necessary preparation for the construction work ahead
7. Some pilot projects have been scoped out – to see how co-management might work in practice and develop through learning by doing – otherwise known as adaptive management
8. The Fisheries Act 2020 emerged from Parliament and provides a framework for fisheries specific management plans – highly relevant for the future management of diverse fisheries inside and outside the inshore zone
9. Inspiration has been taken from a range of existing co-management initiatives, which even though they don’t necessarily bear that title, carry at least some of the characteristics of co-management – at base a willingness for fishers, managers and scientists to cooperate in the management of their fisheries:
⦁ Isle of Man scallop fishery
⦁ Cornish Sardine Management Group
⦁ Shellfish Industry Advisory Group
⦁ The Scallop Industry Consultative Group
⦁ South Devon Static Gear Agreement
⦁ The experience of 40 years of delegated quota management by producer organisations, which at their best are active fishing cooperatives
⦁ The regional quota management groups which inform the MMO on setting limits for the under-10m and non-sector quota pools and which could take on an expanded role
11. The key to moving forward is the support of working fishermen. Unless there is active support in significant numbers, all co-management initiatives will founder and we will slip back into the usual sub-optimal way of doing things that pleases no one.
Choppy Waters, Bumpy Times
The FOIF is not dead but it has been mauled, as has the whole UK fishing industry, by seeing our hopes aspirations as an independent coastal state crushed by the terms of the TCA; terms accepted by a Government that promised a lot and delivered next to nothing.
The continued presence of large, modern, EU vessels within the 6-12nm zone is a daily reminder of the UK Government’s impotence and failure when push came to shove on fisheries.
In our frustration, it is important not to overlook two things important for the future management of our inshore fisheries:
⦁ The UK now has regulatory autonomy to set the ground-rules for all vessels fishing in UK waters, including non-UK vessels fishing within the 6-12m zone. Although, for the time being, we are subject to EU retained law (the CFP with a few adjustments) there is scope to move away from that body of rules over time – including those which affect inshore fisheries such as bass management measures and technical conservation rules
⦁ The UK is now an independent party in international fisheries agreements. That freedom of action can be used to depart from the CFP where we have no reason or desire to align with past or future European rules; this too has an important bearing on the future management of our inshore fisheries
What’s the Alternative?
There is no doubting the scale of the challenge we face in turning the management of our inshore fisheries around. They are amongst the most complex fisheries in the world and no country across the globe has got everything exactly right in managing their inshore fisheries. Also, we have been heading in the wrong direction for decades. Many of the problems that we face result from accretions of past policy decisions; many of them for wider purposes than strictly inshore fisheries but with impacts in the coastal zone. Then, it is important not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Some things are working reasonably well, and we will want to keep them.
Despite the regrettable delays and obstacles faces in taking a new direction, do we really have any choice? We could continue to be subject to a top-down, command and control regime, but the best of fisheries managers agree and acknowledge that they will get it wrong if the fishing industry – the people who are subject to the rules – are not closely involved in the design and implementation of management measures. And do we really want to be stuck in (at best) a benign paternalist relationship with government? Or do we want to take our destiny in our own hands? Perhaps the highpoint of the FOIF conference was the inspirational example of British Columbia fisherman Wes Erickson, who with his colleagues turned the West Coast groundfish fishery from an unsustainable and unprofitable basket-case into an exemplar of sustainable fisheries management.
We can let ourselves be discouraged by the scale of the multiple challenges, or we can acknowledge those obstacles and set about removing them stone by stone. That takes a little time, but this is not the point at which we should give up. Here.
Future of Our Inshore Fisheries: Summary Action Plan
1. This paper provides a summary of the proposed next steps for the Future of Our Inshore Fisheries (FOIF) project. It is based on the discussions and presentations at the ‘Issues and Ideas’ workshop held 5 June 2019 and the conference held 8-9 October 2019.
2. Five main themes emerged from the conference discussion and presentations:
⦁ · Theme 1: Co-management
⦁ · Theme 2: Collaborative science
⦁ · Theme 3: Credible fisheries management
⦁ · Theme 4: Rights and access
⦁ · Theme 5: Effective compliance
3. The scale of change wanted and needed is significant. It will take time to develop and implement solutions. From the beginning we have recognised that this project will take a number of years. The project team has prioritised the following projects over the next 12–18 months. This work plan will be added to as the first round of actions are completed. A series of pilot studies will be used to test and refine the various initiatives. This will ensure that the experience and expertise of fishermen will directly inform the project, every step of the way.
4. The focus on this first phase of work is on establishing the framework that will enable better management of our inshore fisheries resources.
Theme 1: Co-management
5. Why this is important: Co-management ensures that fisheries management decisions are better informed by bringing industry knowledge and experience to the fore. Doing this should lead to a greater sense of collective ownership: management measures are more likely to be effective because they are supported and understood by the industry. Co-management runs as a constant theme through the FOIF work programme but also through the newly established Shellfish Industry Advisory Group (SIAG) and whelk/crab management groups.
6. Priority tasks:
⦁ · Establish a set of co-management principles which describe the
different stages of co-management and the roles and responsibilities of
government and industry at each stage.
⦁ · Pilot the application of these principles; the new SIAG, Whelk
Management Group and Crab Management Group will provide obvious case studies.
Future Of Our Inshore Fisheries – Summary Action Plan
Theme 2: Collaborative science
7. Why this is important: We need to ensure that the right data and evidence is collected, at the right time, to the right standard and in a form that can be used to inform the right management decisions. This is more likely to happen when fishermen are active participants in the science and research process and are able to use their expert knowledge to help design research projects and review the results.
8. Priority tasks:
⦁ · Map our inshore fisheries by species, stock, management status etc.
and establish a database where this information can be updated annually. Produce information guides for fishermen and fisheries managers on status of key stocks.
⦁ · Develop and implement a research standard that establishes the protocols that will guide the collection and use of data, regardless of who undertakes it.
⦁ · Establish a formal peer review process that enables scientists, industry and policy makers to collectively review the science that is used to inform management.
Theme 3: Credible fisheries management
9. Why this is important: Ensuring the sustainable use of our inshore fisheries resources (in line with the objectives in the Fisheries Bill) means that we need to look at balancing environmental, economic and social outcomes. Credible fisheries management means that decisions are made with a clear line of sight to all three objectives.
· Define what fisheries will be managed as inshore fisheries:
o Focused principally on which sector is responsible for the majority of fishing mortality (as per the CEFAS presentation at the FOIF conference);
o Taking account of overlapping fishing activities and potential displacement effects.
⦁ · Develop a Harvest Strategy Standard (HSS) that will guide how inshore fisheries will be managed. Typically, a HSS means that each fishery has a management target in place that helps set fishing effort and a series of triggers that guide if management measures need to reduce fishing pressure.
⦁ · Guide to Fisheries Plans – setting out how fisheries management plans (as per the Fisheries Bill) could be drafted and implemented, who should be involved and what they should include. The SIAG has
already agreed at its meeting on 3 March that it would develop a draft shellfish plan.
Theme 4: Rights and access
11.Why this is important: Open access fisheries are open to overexploitation and failure. The key to successful fisheries management is limiting fishing effort in line with stock sustainability. A fair and effective way to limit access to a fishery is therefore required. Alongside this, fishermen need to know that if they take the difficult management decisions, their access to the fishery is protected so that they can realise the benefits once a fishery improves.
⦁ Explore the feasibility of Community Quota Ownership schemes which will include establishing the principles that will guide how such a scheme will operate. Test the approach with a series of local pilots.
· For each inshore fishery start a review of access measures to determine the optimal arrangements that prioritise:
o The sustainability of the fishery;
o The need to deal with latent capacity and technological development;
o Delivering a fair and transparent means of allocating fishing opportunities.
Theme 5: Effective compliance
13.Why this is important: Successful fisheries management depends on fishermen having an opportunity to shape the rules that they work under. This ensures that the rules are clear understandable and increases the prospect that those subject to the rules will abide by them. There is an opportunity to establish a compliance system that delivers ‘policing by consent’ or earned recognition with a clear focus on actions to encourage compliance rather than traditional enforcement activity. Given the limited resources available to monitor fishing activity and to create an effective deterrent, fishermen also have a key role in encouraging community compliance.
14.No specific tasks are proposed on this issue over the next twelve months.
Future of Our Inshore Fisheries Steering Group June 2020