July 13: 'Fisheries not so bad'
Fisheries in the Northsea are not as bad as generally thought, says Cefas scientist Stuart Reeves. “The situation has improved a lot over the last few years.”
Cefas (Centre for Environment, Fisheries & Aquaculture Science) at Lowestoft advises the British government on fishery policies in England and Wales. It is a part of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and thus a government agency.
Stuart Reeves is fishery scientist at Cefas and he advises on sustainable fisheries – a policy set out by the British government.

Stuart Reeves

First of all, he likes to clarify what 'sustainability' means in terms of fishery policies, namely a low fishing presssure on the fish stocks. Environmental organisations also take the impact of fishery gears to the environment into account.
Following the narrower definition of acceptable fishery pressure, Reeves says most major fish stocks in the North Sea are doing quite well. Haddock, plaice, sole, saithe and herring are all above the critical line. In all, he judges the current situation as 7 points out of 10.
Major factors behind the improvement over the last few years are involvement of stakeholders (the fishery industry as well as conservation organisations) and the reduction of the fishing fleet.
Before the reform of the EU Common Fishery Policy, scientists and the fishery industry took opposite stands in setting the total allowable catch. Under the new policy, scientists and representatives from the fishery industry are to set the limits together. “There used to be regular conflicts”, says Reeves. “Now the relationship between scientists and industry has become much healthier.”
Social studies on the effect of fishery management have shown that management is most effective when the fishing industry is involved in the process. Not only does this policy increase the commitment among stakeholders, also the personal relationship between partners contributes to the success, as does a better understanding on the side of the industry of the long-term purpose of the limits set, namely to keep the fish stocks at a sustainable level.

Cefas at the Lowestoft Beach

Reduction of the fleet and control of the hours at sea over the last few years have reduced fishery pressure on the stocks, allowing recovery to take place.
Traditionally, fisheries were managed mainly by setting the total allowable catch, Reeves says. Restrictions in fishing effort are now also used, and the European Commission has delegated control of fishing effort to the member states, setting national targets aimed at a 25 percent drop in cod fishing effort for example. Member states can in principle dynamically control the days at sea. The system is reminiscent of the Norwegian system, which is even more dynamic in the sense that certain areas can be closed for example to protect spawning stocks.
Still, not all stocks are doing well. Although North Sea cod has recovered thanks to a good spawning in 2005 and catches of large four-year-old cod, which gives the impression that the cod is back, it all depends on your reference, Reeves explains. The stock was very low and now creeps up again. The cod stock may now be better than it has been in the last ten years, but active protection is needed to prevent another collapse.
Although the general situation in the North Sea has improved, according to Reeves the very same factors behind the improvement are also the weak points in reaching sustainability, namely cooperation with stakeholders and fleet reduction. Both still need to be increased. “It's an ongoing change”, says Reeves who is involved in reviewing fishery policy in that direction.