Responsive decision-making with industry centrally involved in management is key to an effective post-Brexit fisheries regime, argues Dale Rodmell.
The UK’s departure from the EU and therefore the Common Fisheries Policy, will mean that the UK will, from March 2019, operate as an independent coastal state. Although shared stocks will continue to be managed cooperatively, this change will provide a range of possibilities for a customised and tailored management regime for our fishing fleets. It makes sense to start thinking about what that will look like, now.
One of the reasons that the CFP took the fishing industry down so many blind alleys over 40 years, including encouraging large-scale discarding, has been its top-down, command and control, approach and cumbersome decision-making procedures.
As we move out of the era of the CFP and enter a new era as an independent coastal state, it will be important to learn the lessons of the CFP and to avoid the more obvious pitfalls.
It is right to have high ambitions for our fisheries. We should aim for high long-term average yields of commercial species. That provides employment and economic benefits as well as high protein food on the table. We should also ensure adequate protection for vulnerable species and habitats.
In fact, there is rarely very much difference between the fishing industry and environmentalists on high level objectives. It is at the implementation level where the problems arise. The current CFP illustrates this, which at its core confuses objectives with instruments, and lacks coherence between quota-setting rules, the landing obligation, technical conservation rules and approaches to control and enforcement. It also refuses to recognise that there must be inevitable trade-offs between different objectives. The result is growing levels of dysfunctionality that with the arrival of the EU landing obligation and the associated problem of chokes, now threatens to tie fleets up early in the year. It all adds up to a serious mess.
In developing our own alternative approach to fisheries management, what are the principles that we should follow? Here are my thoughts:
A Responsive System
Fisheries management is prone to unintended consequences. We have certainly learnt that over recent decades. We should therefore in future ensure that we are able to change course quickly in order to adapt to dynamic circumstances or after it is recognised that we have taken a wrong turning. We should certainly not follow the CFP into an unwieldy decision-making system.
Parliament should set the broad principles and overall direction. It should not involve itself in technical areas in which it lacks expertise. A system which as far as possible avoids prescriptive micro-management and instead devolves technical decisions to the participants in each fishery has to be the ideal. The trade-off is that the participants must demonstrate that they are delivering the desired objective. This is called results-based management. This should be the guiding principle behind our future management systems.
The most successful fisheries management regimes, worldwide, have at their heart a close working relationship between fisheries managers and those working in each fishery. Trust and confidence follow when it is clear that managers and fishers are both pursuing the same objectives. Sharing information in a highly dynamic industry requires dialogue. We should be thinking now about how our institutions can take the best from the CFP and leave the worst behind. The advisory councils have been recognised as representing a huge step away from a top-down command and control model and we should now think about what advisory structures should be embedded within our own systems, post-Brexit.
Where possible we should aspire to go beyond dialogue and advice to delegate management responsibilities to the lowest practical level. Producer Organisations are widely recognised to provide a highly successful model of devolved collective responsibility in the areas of quota management and marketing. With their finger on the pulse at regional and port level, POs have a flexibility and local knowledge which governments could never achieve. The key is collective responsibility and accountability. We should look for opportunities to extend this decentralised model.
Incentives Should Support Management Objectives
Much can also be achieved by creating the right incentives for individual fishing businesses. A steady flow of data and information, reduction of unwanted bycatch or other environmental impacts, can all be shaped by creating the right form of incentive structures. Enabling compliance should be the primary objective of the fisheries regulator and in the long term this will be much more effective than an exclusive focus on catching out the unwary in a web of top-down complexity.
What Not To Do
I have tried above to sketch out what a modern, effective, dynamic, post-Brexit management regime might look like.
The ingredients for a fisheries management dystopia that have stymied the CFP are sadly being promoted by some environmental NGOs, including WWF, which should really know better. Blanket CCTV, recently advocated by the NGO, goes hand in hand with a top-down big-brother mentality that should really have no place in modern fisheries management. Various kinds of remote sensing will certainly have their place in fisheries management in the future – but only where it makes sense as part of a voluntary means for vessel operators to demonstrate its practices, as part of a system of incentives and audits.
We have seen in the CFP, that in the final analysis, top-down prescription doesn’t work. Even with big-brother on board it will not work. What in my view will work, is clever management measures designed and implemented with the industry’s involvement and cooperation, which follow the grain of fishery profitability, not run against it. The principles of good governance should be the standard against which we should measure our future fisheries management arrangements, because in the final analysis, good governance is effective governance.