The ultra-mixed demersal fishery, with landings and earnings dependent on around 40 species, caught with eight or nine different fishing methods, by fleets from five or six member states, means that management approaches focused on only one or two species, or one or two fleets, are not likely to deliver sustainable or profitable fisheries.
This has been one of the main reasons why the Celtic sea has to date remained clear of the EU Cod Recovery Zone and the EU Cod Management Plan, despite repeated attempts by the Commission to extend them to this part of Area VII.
The regional advisory council has provided a platform where the principal stakeholders in the different member states can work with fisheries scientists on the development of a plan tailored to the specifics of these highly mixed fisheries.
The prize of a well-founded long term management plan developed with the close involvement of the fishing industry would be well worth achieving, not least because it would bring a degree of stability to the management regime ; vessel operators would no longer constantly have to worry whether the next Council of Ministers is going to bring forward yet another raft of poorly-thought through and inappropriate measures.
The Commission also puts store in the development of a long term plan for the Celtic Sea and at the most recent meeting of the RAC in Dublin, offered financial, data and logistical support for the RACs work in this area. The RAC will be taking up this offer and is preparing a note on the assistance required.
Very positive ICES advice for 2011, which confirms strong recruitment in the cod, haddock and whiting fisheries, provides a welcome and solid foundation for the management plan. Life is always easier when the signs are pointing in the right direction and the key trends in many of the Celtic Sea stocks - reduced fishing mortality and increasing biomass - have been moving in the right directions for some time now.
Part of this will be related to the usual cycles of nature but in part, it is likely to reflect management measures taken in the recent past, notably the reduction in the capacity of the fleets and the spawning closure on the Trevose bank. Decommissioning schemes in France, the UK, Ireland and Belgium have all contributed to a significant reduction in the vessels prosecuting the Celtic Sea fisheries.
All this is not to say that the Celtic Sea demersal fisheries and the development of a long term management plan do not face challenges. The most immediate of these is the misalignment of the current TAC for cod with the amount of cod on the grounds. Only an urgent mid-year increase in the TAC can avoid the threat of a huge increase in discarded cod.
At the same time it is foreseeable that will be extreme pressure for increased selectivity in these fisheries to ensure that the increased abundance doesnt just end up as increased discards. Getting the right balance between selectivity and landings will be a priority for this autumn as well as ensuring that the right measures are applied for the right fleets and gears.
But even in the longer term management in mixed fisheries is never easy; apparently straightforward blanket measures such as restricting time at sea have a tendency to backfire.
It is for this reason the NWWRAC is planning along with the North Sea RAC, a major conference on exploitation in mixed fisheries that will bring together world class experts on mixed fisheries, fishermen and fishing vessel operators and fisheries managers.
The outcome of these discussions will be invaluable in informing the working group tasked with developing the management plan for the demersal fisheries in the Celtic Sea. The type of issues that will be addressed during the conference, and during the development of the long term management plan, are likely to include:
- Inextricably mixed stocks
- Sequential targeting within a single trip
- ICES work to date on mixed fisheries
- Avoidance plans
- Gear selectivity
- Spatial temporal measures
- Discards in mixed fisheries
- Economic driver stocks and the rest (Main TACs + Norway Others type approach)
- Choke stocks
- MSY in mixed species fisheries
- LTMP trade-offs
- Catch composition rules
The difference between the long term management plans that have been adopted at EU level to date and the type of draft plan currently worked on by the RAC is the latters emphasis on a balance between biology/environment and economics and its commitment to an evolution towards its objectives.
It is worthy of note that when making TAC recommendations if there is a management plan, the Commission will follow the provisions of the plan without recourse to its more extreme and controversial approaches. The aim will be to agree and adopt a management plan that will deliver long term stability, sustainability and profitability.