Setting catch limits above scientific advice is bad business
Setting catch limits for Baltic cod above scientific recommendations is not only hurting the stocks, but is also bad business, according to new study.
Text and film: Henrik Hamrén
For the fourth year in a row, the EU Council of fisheries ministers recently set catch limits for the Baltic Sea that exceeds the scientific recommendations. Last week, after all-night negotiations, the Council announced that next years’ total allowable catch (TAC) for the eastern Baltic cod stock will be 28 388 tons. The recommended TAC, advised by ICES and endorsed by the European Commission, was 22 275 tons.
The marine scientific community and NGOs reacted strongly since the eastern cod stock is in bad shape and has been over-fished during in the past years. The Councils decision is seemingly to be based on the assumption that a higher fishing pressure will profit the fishermen and the processing industry. But according to a new scientific study that assumption is probably wrong.
– Setting TACs high above scientific advice is not only bad for the marine ecosystem and the fish stocks, it is also bad business, says, Rudi Voss, marine researcher at the Christian-Albrechts-University in Kiel, and the main author of the study.
Overfishing costly for the fishermen
In his study Voss introduces a new concept called ecologically-constrained Maximum Economic Yield (eMEY).
– We use a bio-economic model, in which economic considerations are explicitly included, to calculate what would be the optimal catch given some ecological constraints, such as stock sizes, as well as the economic results from it, says Voss.
Comparing hypothetical TACs according to eMEY with the actual TACs set for the eastern Baltic cod stock from 1980 to 2015, shows that long-term overfishing not only leads to stock collapse but also to higher costs for the fisheries industry.
– We found that the costs of overfishing are mainly borne by the commercial fishery, while fishing less than optimal is particularly costly for the processing industry and consumers, says Voss.
Fishing within safe ecologial limits
One of the main features of the eMEY concept is that it defines what economic consequences different management decisions can have within boundaries of the marine ecosystem's ecological constraints.
– Let’s say that you could earn 4 000 euro a month on fishing, and still meet the commonly agreed ecological targets, but you only earn 2 000 euro. In our model, this would mean a cost of 2 000 euro. So, if commercial fisheries could make a profit of let's say 50 million euro by following a certain management strategy, but it only makes ten million euro - then 40 million euro is the cost for deviating from the optimal fisheries management, Voss says.
He is convinced that the combination of ecological constraints and economic considerations would enable fisheries management to reach more viable and profitable fisheries – within safe ecological limits.
– Fishing is basically an economic activity. People are making their living out of fishing. Of course, it is important to have sustainably managed fish stocks, but, at the same time, we also have to care about the fishermen and their families, and the industry. I think it is just natural to also include economic considerations in stock assessments, says Voss.
Changing fisheries advice process takes time
One of the co-authors of the study, the Baltic Sea Centre scientist Maciej Tomczak, has solid knowledge of the advisory process for the Baltic Sea fisheries. According to him it is high time to develop the current management advice process according to the eMey concept.
– Factors like ecology and economics are not sufficiently integrated in the current advice process for Baltic Sea fisheries. I would like to see them put directly into the advice, he says.
The advisory process is complex, and changes usually take time, Voss concludes.
– But hopefully we can convince people that this makes sense, both for those working with fisheries management and those working with the biological and ecological side of stock assessment. I hope that in the future we might actually include the economic considerations already in the advice process, he says.