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Europe’s fishermen should have marine "stewardship" role


North Sea fishermen should be allowed to play a greater part in taking care of the marine environment as part of a new strategy to protect the sea’s wildlife and habitats.

European scientists, led by a team at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, have come up with a pioneering North Sea fisheries management plan which recognises the importance of humans and their interaction with the marine environment, or ecosystem.

The scientists, who are funded by the European Union, have produced the North Sea Fisheries Ecosystem Plan (FEP), which shows how an ‘ecosystem approach’ could be introduced to manage the North Sea fisheries and highlights the importance of consulting stakeholders, like fishermen, in developing management plans.

The creation of stewardship roles for those living and working in close contact with the sea, similar to those adopted by landowners and farmers to maintain the countryside, are among the FEP’s proposals.

The report follows the reformation of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), which used to focus exclusively on the effects of fishing on the size of fish stocks. Now the Policy has been expanded to include the effect of the environment on fish stocks and how fishing affects the ecosystem. It also calls for more opportunities for fishing communities, and other interested parties, to play a part in decision making.

The FEP presents a management framework based on an extensive scientific study into how fisheries can be managed within the ecosystem. This study was based on a wide ranging consultation with North Sea stakeholders, including fishermen, scientists, conservationists and policy makers.

The North Sea FEP argues that a mixture of measures is required to achieve a sustainable fishing industry, as no single measure is likely to be the cure. This should include:

  • Encouraging fishermen to take on a ‘stewardship’ role to protect the marine ecosystem
  • Increasing the role of stakeholders in developing fisheries policies
  • Reducing fishing now and permanently to promote long term sustainability
  • Providing aid for the transition towards an ecosystem approach
  • Introducing spatial management, including the use of protected areas
  • Using incentives to promote the use of less destructive fishing techniques e.g. nets with larger mesh and spatial restrictions of bottom trawls

During the development of the FEP, stakeholders were asked what they thought were the main threats to the North Sea ecosystem, and its fisheries, as well as their preferred management tools. Scientific researchers used this information to model how various forms of management can be used to protect important aspects of the North Sea ecosystem, including the fisheries. Stakeholders were then consulted again on the ‘toolbox’ of measures developed from the models before the FEP was produced.

Professor Chris Frid, project leader, of Newcastle University’s School of Marine Sciences and Technology, said: “Policy makers have been criticised in the past for having a ‘top-down’ approach to fisheries management. However, our team has worked closely with industry and other interested parties to come up with a framework which should see fish stocks rebuilt and the environment protected. “
Commenting on the stewardship proposal, he added: “The seas and oceans are held in common ownership and we have a duty to steward them for future generations, managing them for a common good. Fishermen spend their lives at sea, they know and understand the environment, and this scheme can help them play a more direct role in the stewardship of our fish stocks, marine life and maritime heritage. “The Fisheries Ecosystem process should also be about ensuring they are equipped with the necessary knowledge, tools and incentives to discharge this responsibility on behalf of society.”

Barrie Deas, chief executive of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations, said: “We welcome the balanced approach evident in the FEP, and particularly the central attention given to the importance of stakeholder involvement. This accords with the experiences of the best fisheries management schemes around the world where stakeholders need to be at the centre of the decision-making process.”

Professor Tim Gray, a social science researcher in the project team, said: “Greater stakeholder involvement in fisheries governance of the North Sea is a necessity, both to enhance the quality of management decisions, and to ensure compliance with fisheries regulations.” Dr Jake Rice, chief scientist of the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES), and a member of the FEP’s steering group, said: “This is a very important achievement. The ecosystem approach to fisheries management is a very important and daunting challenge as soon as one tries to go from concepts to practical measures. “The success of this project came partly from identifying and concentrating on key species, key concepts and very largely from making explicit that stakeholder involvement is a precondition, not an add-on, for development of effective policies.”

Claire Jordan | alfa
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