REPORT ON FISH SCIENCE SEMINAR 14TH NOVEMBER 2003

IS THERE AN ALTERNATIVE TO ICES ACFM ADVICE?

Following a very successful fisheries workshop at Kilkeel organised by the Anglo North Irish Fish Producers' Organisation on 5 September 2003, The Fishermen's Association Limited invited Sigurjon Thordarson (SG), a qualified marine biologist and currently a member of the Icelandic Parliament, Jon Kristjansson (JK), an independent fisheries scientists from Iceland, and Jorgen Niclasen (JN), a Faroese MP and the Faroese Fisheries minister for four years to Jan 2003, to present their views on fish stock (mis?) management to Scottish fishermen; Allan McCulla (AMcC) was also to present a short film of a trip aboard an Irish Sea semi-pelagic whitefish trawler during which JK had undertaken an assessment of the stocks. Disappointingly, FRS had declined an invitation to give a presentation (due to their current workload) and Dr Chris Reid of the Sir Alistair Hardy Foundation for Ocean Science (SAHFOS) had been unable to attend, being out of the country, but indicated that he would be willing to give a presentation of the work of SAHFOS at a later, mutually convenient, time.

ST opened, explaining that he was from a fishing family in a fishing community, and that Iceland's fisheries were now declining due largely in his view to their adherence to ICES advice and Iceland's ITQ management system; he could see why the EU's fisheries policy was not suitable for the UK. Having been part of a NFFO delegation that met with UK Government officials and scientists in London earlier in the week, he had noted that the two sides did not agree and "inclusive" management was therefore impossible. He had seen how the quota system was inappropriate in mixed fisheries -despite having followed ICES advice Iceland's cod catch has declined - it was more suited to pelagic fisheries. So what other options were there?

In his opinion the quota system makes fishermen criminals and is bad for stocks due to discarding and high grading; quota evasion gives inaccurate data for the scientists. Although Iceland's fish stocks were deemed to be "national property", Iceland uses an ITQ system to manage and allocate quotas which allows the removal of quota from communities into the hands of the corporate sector; the book value of such companies has increased dramatically as a direct result of their investment in quotas. Iceland's management of their fisheries is failing and the outlook is discouraging new entrants. 80% of Icelanders oppose the system, many now favouring an effort-based system as employed in the Faeroes. He suggested that Jon Kristjannson's arguments (presented later) for an alternative effort-based system are valid but have been attacked with unreasonable and illogical argument; after all the Faeroes had rejected the quota system in 1996 and had doubled its catch under an effort-based (days at sea) system and the stocks were increasing.

JK explained that he had wanted to see for himself the situation in the UK after hearing conflicting reports. He outlined the history of Iceland's cod fishery since 1959; until 1976 there had been unrestricted fishing, then the scientists stepped in and advised catching less to allow stocks to improve. Despite reducing fishing effort the stocks were still declining but the scientists wanted further reductions. In 1976 Iceland declared its 200-mile fishing limit and in 1984 they introduced quota restrictions but still their catch was declining; even an increase to 155mm mesh did not improve the stocks, in fact fewer bigger fish were subsequently found. They discovered that cod were not growing as fast as they used to and appeared to be adjusting to the change in fishing pressure; stocks did show some improvement after a time and it appeared that they were adjusting to fishing pressure and food availability.

JK pointed out that the Faroese cod stock had not returned to the pre-war level, the absence of fishing mortality appears to have actually reduced the stock. JK showed how the period of high catches corresponded to periods of low recruitment and vice versa, growth rates following the recruitment profile of Faroese cod. He argued that it is not fishing pressure that regulates the stock size but that the stocks naturally adjust and compensate as the intensity of the factors impacting on it varies; yet ICES' view is that recruitment will improve if catching is reduced. JK questioned this view.

He showed how this same theory could also be demonstrated by looking at the Irish Sea cod stock. But like ICES, UK scientists insist that to get a higher SSB you need better recruitment and must be achieved by reducing fishing pressure; his view is that increased fishing improves recruitment because it removes larger fish allowing the younger year classes more space and food. Perhaps therefore it is not necessary to have a high SSB for good recruitment?

JK referred to Dr R H J Beverton, a leading figure in the science of fish stock assessment and who designed the stocks assessment models, who in 1992 said that fishing mortality was minor compared to predation and natural mortality, and pointed out that ICES estimates this at only 20% of the total mortality! It is mainly the competition for food that determines the stock size he proposed, citing the example of NS haddock; their average size was down and they are maturing at an earlier age - are NS fish starving? He explained how young cod and haddock are competing for the same food source, with haddock remaining a bottom feeder whilst cod later target a variety of food sources, many well above the bottom. ICES is ignoring the "food factor" and is wrong in its estimate of natural and predator mortality (20%); he estimates this to be around 60 - 80% in reality.

JK showed the newspaper headline "North Sea Fish Have Shrunk!" - and proposed that reducing fishing mortality has increased pressure on the food sources and is restricting stock growth. He cited examples of this from experiments done with perch stocks in Lake Windermere and char in Norway; by harvesting the smaller fish, those remaining grow faster and better. He highlighted the fact that there were no problems when the Faroese industry was self-regulating (before licences and quotas) - if there were no fish, they didn't go to sea - and that the problems had begun when management controls were imposed. He concluded with another reference from Beverton: catch controls are fundamentally flawed except in simple single species fisheries, whereas fishing effort controls is far better for overall sustainability.

There was a short question and answer session before the break.

A Salmond MP asked why the NS haddock stock was good whilst cod was apparently poor? JK suggested that this might only be answered when this haddock year class dies out; cod appeared to be more plentiful than the scientists were estimating. He would advocate fishing the haddock stock heavily to make more food available. He said all stocks should be harvested "generally" and not be targeted as is encouraged by the quota system.

R Lochhead MSP questioned JK's emphasis on food availability. JK's view is that the ecosystem remains in equilibrium, producing food stocks, and these must be in the right place for fish stocks; bigger fish stocks means more competition for food and then stocks decline.

Referring to the oscillations in the stock sizes, M Park SWFPA asked if stock profiles rise and fall together. JK replied that they do not, for each stock this depends on food availability and fishing cannot control stock size.

A Tait SPFA questioned whether Iceland's scientists were all in agreement with their regime. JK explained that Iceland only fishes 50% of the stock and their scientists work closely with their Government; the Government runs the ITQ system because it suits the fishing companies and they in turn support the Government; he said Iceland's system is not good despite the propaganda claiming otherwise.

P Bruce FAL asked since this NS haddock year class is now 4 years old and they normally die at 6, if we don't catch them will they disappear? JK - yes, this relates to the growth-food relationship, as they die off, the next year class will come through if the food is there for them.

After a short coffee break JN gave his presentation entitled "Live with Nature".

JN explained that it is the fish that control the people, not the other way round; the Faeroes has a population of 48,000, a land mass of 14,000 sq. km with 274,000 sq. km of sea; 99.5% of their exports is fish and this is the main reason the Faeroes is not in the EU. They will not join unless they are allowed to retain control of their fisheries. He explained how their fleet had contracted as countries imposed 200 mile limits and how they realised that they would have to ensure the stocks around their island remained good because that was the future of their industry; however, they had engaged other countries in bilateral fisheries agreements as insurance against a downturn in domestic stocks.

JN gave the fleet profile: a small "distant waters" fleet and a big "home waters" fleet mainly vessels under 40t. JN emphasised that the Faroese fisheries policy was not based on "output" controls like quotas but on "input" (effort) controls; after all, the team coach cannot control the result of a football match but can control his team's effort! The Faroese first issued fishing licences in 1981, introduced quotas in 1996 and switched to effort control in 1996. JN emphasised that quotas were not suitable for mixed fisheries and that the effort system, coupled with technical measures - closed areas, gear regulations - allowed vessels to catch what was (naturally) available. JN explained how days were allocated to vessels for fishing within and outwith the "Faroese Bank", how account was taken of differences in fishing capacity/power, how areas were closed for spawning, gear conflict or if small fish predominated in catches and how over-exploitation of the most profitable species was controlled. The fishing days are transferable but only with vessels over 15t and only within same gear type and adjustment. Problems encountered include accurate monitoring of vessel movements and controlling technical advances particularly in respect of new vessels and gear. Advantages were: no discards, mis-reporting or mis-declaration and overall accurate catch data; most important - the system is acceptable to everyone involved.

In 1993 ICES advised them to stop fishing for cod for 5 years to allow the stock to recover but the Faeroes rejected this - scientists deal with fish, politicians deal with people! The catch actually increased thereafter - they "fished the stock up". They accept that the individual stocks go up and down naturally and that overall the stocks are due to decline after several years of good fishing. It is notable that ICES now say that their cod, haddock and saithe stocks are healthy yet they recommended no fishing for 5 years in 1993, and that each year ICES changes its stock profiles - this shows its advice is based on inaccurate data and that it is only looking backwards! JN explained how they had fished in excess of the ICES advice for cod, haddock and saithe over the last three years, except haddock in 2000; the SSB had increased according to ICES in every case -except haddock in 2001. He stated that the Faeroes would now be bankrupt if they had adhered to the ICES advice. JN highlighted two recent reports: the "Sustainability Ranking of North Atlantic Fisheries" - of the eleven countries listed, Faeroes is top with EU countries in five of the bottom six places; in "Most Profitable Fishing Industry in Europe" - Faeroes was again top. JN urged that we had something to fight for, either repair the current system or replace it.

For a system based on nature "controls" it had to be

  1. accepted by everyone involved
  2. based on reliable statistics and
  3. be able to respond immediately to fluctuations.

AMcC then introduced a short film of a trip aboard an Irish Sea semi-pelagic trawler targeting cod and other whitefish; JK had been on this trip to see for himself what the catches comprised. AMC explained that when they had tackled their scientists earlier this year about their advice on stocks and its effects on the industry, the scientists asked then to come up with an alternative approach and they had contacted JK after reading of his work in Fishing News. After the Kilkeel workshop, they invited DARD to comment on this alternative approach and only received their response earlier that week in which the scientists appear to be trying to discredit and undermine this alternative theory, but at least they are in a debate now! He wished our politicians had the courage of JN to reject ICES advice. During the film, AMC noted that the scientists had estimated that 80% of Irish Sea cod were under 3 years old whereas 80% of the cod caught during filming were more than 3 years old!

Another short Q/A session followed.

In response to a question from Roddy McColl (RMcC) FAL Secretary who chaired the Seminar about calculating the SSB, JN said that ICES needed a new explanation of what was happening to the stocks given that they advised a closure in 1993; he added that JK's theory had still to be proved wrong whereas ICES had already been proved wrong. AMC noted that UK scientists had been unable to explain why ICES continued to recommend that Faeroe cut its fishing effort.

M Park asked JN how effort was controlled, for example if all vessels targeted cod. There was no quota restriction JN explained, and areas could be closed if effort was being concentrated there; JN emphasised that they were trying to balance fishing effort with the available stocks.

JN explained to T Hay that they had rejected the ICES advice after forming a national fisheries committee and considering JK's theory.

R Lochhead asked if the current Faroese Fisheries Minister agreed with this policy and how ICES viewed the findings of the research trip in the IS. JN replied that the current Minister totally agreed with this policy; AMC said that ICES appeared to be confused by JK's assessment of the IS cod stock and were trying to discredit his theory; the industry must gather all alternate advice and challenge ICES.

Several more questions were fielded: JN confirmed that there was a ban on industrial fishing in Faroese waters and JK's view was that industrial fishing removes both prey and predators; Iceland's ITQ system was no good for the stocks since stocks appeared to improve the heavier they were fished in ST's opinion; JN said there were very few breaches of the regulations in the Faeroes and the recently introduced VMS system would improve monitoring and that there was a very small trade in fishing days in the Faeroes, the main trade was in licences; JN confirmed that Faeroes had reduced the allocation of days to try to ensure fishing effort matched the available stocks and judged that the total effort had actually decreased since days limits were brought in and that closures were normally between mid February and the end of March and lasted from 6 to 8 weeks.

RMcC closed the seminar thanking ST, JK, JN and AMcC for coming to the Northeast of Scotland and sharing their experiences and views with the industry and for making the event so very interesting and worthwhile.

He also stated that ICES advice had to be challenged. The survival of the fishing industry and communities depended on it. There was an alternative that had proved itself in Faeroe. That message would be taken to the Scottish and Westminster Parliaments.

R Stevenson

Chief Executive

West of Scotland Fish Producers Organisation Limited

19 November 2003

Heim