EU proposals for reform of the Common Fisheries Policy - Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee Contents

5  Science and Data

70.  Both the current and proposed Basic Regulations enshrine a requirement to base decisions on sound scientific advice.[150] Defra also aims to base its decisions on sound science and evidence.[151] It is therefore highly concerning that this advice is not available for a substantial number of the EU's stocks—according to the Commission:

Reliable scientific advice exists for around 30% of all EU stocks, most of them in the Atlantic Ocean, and the North and Baltic Seas. Out of 102 stocks in the Atlantic, there is no assessment for 42 stocks and incomplete information exists for a further 21. In the Mediterranean, there is advice for just 21 out of 60 stocks.[152]

Moreover the proportion of stocks for which no scientific advice is available is actually increasing over time, not decreasing, despite the EU's investment in data collection.[153] The draft CFP regulation introduces a new requirement that the EU shall implement an ecosystem-based management approach.[154] This is a laudable aim but requires substantial data on non-commercial species, which are generally not available.[155]

71.  The absence of scientific advice or data for so many stocks renders it impossible to prove whether Commission's objective to exploit stocks at MSY levels has been met. It is difficult even to evaluate the trajectory of European fish stocks and so decide if current conservation measures are working or if more stringent measures are needed. Lack of recent and locally-specific data on fish stock abundance is also a cause of antagonism between fisheries managers, fishers and scientists.[156] David Scott, an experienced fisherman and former chair of the NFFO, felt that "it is ridiculous to have a situation where we are virtually knee deep in cod but fishermen cannot catch them. It is all because of guesswork on the part of the scientists, because they have not been able to put in the time to assess the stocks".[157] This antagonism could hinder effective co-management going forward.

72.  Both the fishing industry and fisheries scientists felt a new way of working was needed to allow evidence-based management to take place cost-effectively. Professor Frid, Chair of Marine Biology at the University of Liverpool, argued that "to strive for 'adequate data on everything' is unrealistic and unnecessary".[158] Bertie Armstrong, Chief Executive of the Scottish Fishermen's Federation, noted that it was not the case that there was "a complete dearth of information" for the unassessed stocks.[159] Instead there was a view that the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES),and other sources of scientific advice to the EU, are being too prescriptive in their definition of acceptable data and could make greater use of available sources of data.[160]

73.  The financial envelope for scientific knowledge and data collection will increase from €46.6m currently to over €50m annually under the future EMFF.[161] However, the Commission's Impact Assessment concluded that an extra €20m would be needed to just to fill the scientific gaps for the 136 stocks that were modelled (the EU manages over 200 stocks in total).[162] The Commission also proposes to improve the collection of fisheries-related data by Member States through a new provision in the future EMFF regulation to make receipt of funding conditional on compliance with data collection obligations.[163]

74.  It is essential that the future CFP is placed on a sounder scientific footing. The fact that the proportion of stocks for which scientific advice is not available is actually increasing over time, not decreasing, strongly indicates that the current approach is failing. The current economic circumstances also constrain our ability to spend more on scientific advice and data collection. In this light, we think it is time to move away from the traditional, data-hungry, single stock models and consider a new approach that makes better use of real time data from fishing vessels and uses data on other aspects of ecosystem health as indicators. Defra should support the Commission's proposals to increase funding for scientific advice and data collection and withdraw funding from Member States that fail to comply with data collection obligations. We also recommend that Defra, with the industry and fisheries scientists, investigate the options for a more cost-effective approach to science-based fisheries management through making more imaginative use of the available data sets.

75.  Improving the availability of scientific advice also benefits the fishing industry through increasing quotas. Professor Rogers pointed out that:

… Often something missed by people is that, the more you know about the state of a fish stock, its biomass and the level of fishing mortality being exerted on it, the more precise you can be about what a sensible offtake from that fishery would be.[164]

For example, the Commission's application of the precautionary principle might mean that catch limits for data-poor stocks are overly conservative—during the 2012 TAC negotiations the Commission proposed an automatic 25% cut for data-poor stocks.[165]

76.  Our witnesses were united in their support of Fisheries Science Partnerships (FSPs). FSPs are a Defra-funded programme of collaborative research projects using commercial fishing vessels and CEFAS scientists.[166] We heard that FSPs had improved data availability and strengthened relationships between fishers and scientists.[167] Defra allocated £1m per year to FSPs between 2003 and 2011, most of which is paid out to the fishing industry for vessel hire. By 2013 the budget for FSPs is set to fall by 10%, to under £900,000 per year.[168] The fishing industry does not currently contribute financially to FSPs. Seafish argued that it would be necessary to "harness the resources and skills of the fishing industry as a sampling platform" in order to deliver the sort of data needed for ecosystem based management.[169]

77.  Fisheries Science Partnerships benefit both the fishing industry and Defra through enabling more effective, evidence-based management, as well as building relationships. The industry currently benefits directly from FSPs through payments for vessel hire. We think it would be appropriate for the industry to contribute towards the costs of data collection to help keep Fisheries Science Partnership projects running. We encourage Defra to continue funding Fisheries Science Partnerships (FSPs) and to also work with the industry to consider how a cost-sharing approach to FSPs could be taken forward.

Mixed Fisheries

78.  Models for predicting the impact of different catch levels in mixed fisheries are still under development.[170] The Scottish Fishermen's Federation pointed out that the absence of scientific models for mixed fisheries alone may make it impossible to attain the target of MSY by 2015 for these fisheries.[171] We are concerned by the absence of scientific models on which to base multi-species fisheries management. Defra should set out the current availability of these models for UK fisheries and the resources and time required to fill any gaps.

150   COM(2011) 425, Article 4; (EC) No 2371/2002, Recital 3 Back

151   Defra Business Plan 2011-2015, May 2011, p 2 Back

152   SEC(2011) 891, p 13 Back

153   European Commission, Consultation on Fishing Opportunities for 2011, COM(2010)241 final, May 2010, Annex IA. In 2003, the proportion of stocks were no scientific advice was available was 24%. By 2010, this had risen to 30% Back

154   COM(2011) 425, Article 2 Back

155   Seafish (Ev 135, Q 430) Back

156   NUTFA (Q 100), NFFO (Ev 107), Bill Brock and David Scott (Q 418)  Back

157   Q 418 Back

158   Ev w19 Back

159   Q 95 Back

160   NFFO (Ev 109), WWF (Q 307); Professor Frid (Ev w 19)  Back

161   Ev 118 Back

162   SEC(2011) 891, p 57 Back

163   COM(2011) 804 final, p 9 Back

164   Q 8 Back

165   HC Deb, 7 November 2011, c3WS; Q 362 Back

166 Back

167   Ev 107-109 Back

168   Information provided by CEFAS Back

169   Ev 135 Back

170   ICES, ICES Advice 2011 Book 1, p 9 Back

171   Ev 112 Back

previous page contents next page

© Parliamentary copyright 2012
Prepared 24 February 2012