View Full Version : Decommissioning better than TFCs

Davie Tait
17th July 2012, 15:34

Tuesday, 17 July 2012 09:46

A STATEMENT released by the NFFO argues that decommissioning of vessels should not be discounted as an effective means of dealing with overcapacity and that the EC’s proposal for transferable fishing concessions (TFCs) is less palatable than it initially appears.

After all, they observe, it is doubtful whether the current progressive rebuilding of the North Sea cod stocks year-on-year would now be underway without the large-scale fleet decommissioning schemes by the UK (both England and Scotland) and Denmark. Similarly, the meteoric rise of the North Sea plaice stocks would have been inconceivable without the large scale decommissioning of significant parts of the Dutch and Belgian beam trawl fleets. And the recovery of the Celtic Sea demersal stocks is not wholly unrelated to the significant decommissioning by the French, Irish and the UK.

In each of these cases, they point out, the turning point in stock development has been the intervention by government with a well-designed and targeted decommissioning scheme. Contrary to the prevailing orthodoxy, the NFFO asserts that both from a stock conservation perspective and re-establishing healthy fleet economics, decommissioning has been amongst the few instruments that have actually worked and made a decisive difference.

And, while hard to finance in these economically straightened times, they argue, a well timed decommissioning scheme putting a fishery on the path to recovery may well save a fortune in the medium to long term. Moreover, they point out that TFCs fly in the face of the desire by Member States to have more control over their own fisheries management, as has been illustrated by debates of CFP reform – a blanket mandatory system would repeat the problems of inflexibility that is the central problem in many other parts of the CFP.

In any event, there must be some scepticism about whether TFCs would be the panacea for overcapacity that their promoters claim. They certainly can assist with adjusting fleet capacity to match available quota but it is noteworthy that in those member states that have something approximating TFCs – Netherlands, Denmark and the UK – the introduction of TFCs have been accompanied or preceded by large-scale publically decommissioning schemes. Similarly the establishment of the New Zealand system of Individual Transferable Quotas was accompanied by significant amounts of public expenditure in its early stages.

Perhaps a bit late in the day but, say the NFFO, it is worth asking the question: does fleet overcapacity matter?

The answer, they explain, depends how you define overcapacity, which they suggest should be judged against three criteria:

1 Technical capacity: the capacity to catch considerably more fish that the quotas that are available.

2. Compliance: whether there is a significant misreporting problem in a fishery.

3. Economics: whether there is chronic lack of profitability in a fleet sector.

Applying these criteria to, for example, the UK pelagic fleet, observe the NFFO, makes it possible to say that it has the technical capacity to catch many times its quotas; however it is compliant, as the once considerable black fish problem has been eradicated, and it is highly profitable.

Pelagic fishing vessels can be equated to an expensive combine harvester taken out of its shed at certain times of the year at the right season, to harvest the mackerel or herring shoals. There is no overcapacity problem in the pelagic fishery so long as the fishery continues (leaving international fishing politics aside) to be well managed primarily through restrictive licensing policy.

By contrast, parts of the under-10m fleet, since the introduction of buyers and sellers registration have faced technical overcapacity, compliance issues and a chronic lack of profitability. Amongst the different layers of the problems facing the under-10s there is an undoubted overcapacity problem, at least amongst the 14% of the under-10s which catch 70% of the under-10 pool quotas; and it is difficult to see how the issue can be resolved without a publically-funded decommissioning scheme as at least part of the package of measures.

All this suggests that the public policy approach to overcapacity requires:

1. A fishery-by-fishery approach which identifies where fleet overcapacity presents a problem.

2. The use of the three criteria: technical, compliance and profitability to define and identify fleet overcapacity.

3. The judicious and targeted use of publically funded and well-designed decommissioning schemes where appropriate.

4. The use of transferable quotas by member states within a system of safeguard where appropriate.

5. An EMFF that supports and facilitates this approach by making decommissioning funds available.

6. Steady but careful progress towards a management regime that removes overcapacity as a public policy issue for those fisheries where individual vessel allocations and fully documented fisheries apply.

Overcapacity has been a central issue for the CFP during its much of its life. Where there has been a problem of endemic fleet overcapacity, compliance and adequate profitability have been difficult to achieve, and the short term losses associated with many conservation initiatives difficult to accept.

The evidence at fishery level suggests that well designed decommissioning schemes can break this spiral of decline.

As a result they conclude that the current orthodoxy which sees decommissioning as a waste of tax payers’ money are focused at either the broad European level or the level of the individual vessel. A focus at the fishery level leads to radically different conclusions.