June 27: Sustainable fishery needs consensus
As in Norway, the UK has switched over to a consensus-based fishery management.
Professor Robin Cook (Marine Scotland): “There is a recognition that the command and control style of management of twenty years ago didn't work. We need agreement on the way we manage things. That's why the government put a lot of engagement in getting fishermen, industry and scientists together to look for the best way of fisheries management. It has improved a lot.”

Robin Cook

However, what is still missing, is ownership of the resource. Consequently, the industry doesn't have an incentive to set its goals on the long term. “What we need is a mechanism that creates a sense of ownership on the resource”, Cook concludes. But for ownership to work in the Northsea, all surrounding countries would have to recognise there is a problem and the nature of the solution would be in ownership of the resources.
Regionalisation of fishery management could make fisheries more sustainable. Not only because of the possible ownership on the resource, but also because people from various parties know each other personally. The Regional Advisory Councils (RACs), consisting of a wide range of shareholders trying to come up with a management scheme that reconciles their conflicting interests, could function as an example.
According to Cook, the North Sea RAC is relatively successful because of the existing willingness to cooperate. “People know each other from the previous North Sea Fishermen Partnership. They trust each other and are willing to work with each other.” Other RACs missed that pre-existing forum.

Aberdeen market

In 1997, Cook wrote an article in Nature warning that the Northsea cod was about to collapse. ”The exploitation rate was clearly unsustainable”, he now says, looking back. However, over the last five years the situation has improved a bit for the cod stocks in the southern North Sea. Fleet size reduction and restriction of the days at sea have had a modest beneficial effect on the stock – more so than quotas which - as the main instrument of the command and control style of fishery management - “did not really work particularly well.”
Robin Cook is a fishery scientist. The Fisheries Research Services in Aberdeen, which he heads, was recently merged with the Scottish Fisheries Protection Agency (SFPA) and the Scottish Government Marine Directorate to form Marine Scotland.