To be successful, the reform and decentralisation of the Common Fisheries Policy must involve all stakeholders, from fishermen themselves to scientists and policy-makers – writes the coordinator of the European-wide GAP2 project
Failing fisheries management is costing us dearly. Yet we often exclude and blame those who are best placed to effect change. If reform of the Common Fisheries Policy is to be sustainable, fishermen themselves need to be included in the decision making process. The failures of the CFP, universally acknowledged by politicians, scientists and industry alike, have resulted in the expensive problem of chronic overfishing. Estimated to affect 70-80 per cent of all Europe's commercial fish stocks, a recent study by the New Economics Foundation found that the level of overfishing in just 43 of Europe's 150 stocks is costing us over €3bn a year.
The financial implications of our environmental degradation have not gone unnoticed by the European Commission. Only last week, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, commissioner for research, innovation and science, put forward her vision of a "bio-economy" for Europe, described as "the sustainable production and exploitation of biological resources" for growth industries and jobs. It seems the cost of overfishing, be it €3bn or the 100,000 potential jobs lost within the fishing sector, is too much to bear for a Europe in the throes of an economic crisis.
Indeed, it is the fishing industry that is worst hit by the effects of overfishing, and is therefore best placed to effect change. Yet the sector often feels blamed by public opinion and is left out of the process of reform. For example, one of the pillars of CFP reform is regionalisation, that is, the proposal to move towards more decentralised fisheries management, away from micromanagement at the European Union level. If it is successfully implemented, this change would give member states and stakeholders – primarily the fishing industry – more responsibility, and therein more power to decide how they fish sustainably, in a way that makes sense to them.
However, despite the intrinsically devolving nature of this aim, and the fact that the reformed CFP is expected to be completed by next year, stakeholders have still yet to have had their say on how this could work in practice. The benefits of including fishers within such discussions are manifold. They range from better data for scientists, to better understanding of society for policy-makers. Moreover, through such collaboration, fishers become increasingly aware of the short-term nature of gains made by unsustainable fishing.
Nowhere is this better demonstrated than the GAP2 project, a pan-European, commission funded project. Through promoting collaboration, scientists are working with fishers, both at sea and on land, to address a range of topics from discards, to the effects of climate change on fish populations. The results so far have included a draft method for self-sampling, that is, how fishermen can collect data that would otherwise be costly and onerous for scientists to obtain. And then there's the more exciting attitudinal change among fishers.
In Palamos, Spain, just last month over 60 fishermen from 24 boats reached a unanimous agreement to close their deep-sea shrimp fisheries for three months so that juveniles, young fish, would be protected. Similar stories can be found outside of GAP2 also. The Isle of Man's government embarked on an innovative programme in 2003 to address their collapsing scallop fisheries. By working intensively with the industry, they secured agreement to close five fisheries, which the fishermen have since decided to leave remaining unfished.
The success of the programme means that the government has since handed over responsibility for the fisheries' future management directly to fishermen, while all monitoring work is carried out from fishing vessels. In 2012, the sector agreed on a no dead discard policy. The involvement of industry, along with scientists and policy-makers, is key to the success of the CFP reform. As the legislation develops, we need to ensure that collaboration is championed, and that we include those with most power to secure long-lasting change.Dr Steve Mackinson works at the Centre for Environment, Fisheries & Aquaculture Science in the United Kingdom and coordinates the GAP2 project