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Slow Fish - Le poisson bon, propre et juste

Small is Beautiful, but fluffy round the edges


An interesting analysis, by Brian O'Riordan, Secretary, ICSF Belgium Office, on the challenges of defining small-scale fisheries, in the light of the Common Fisheries Policy reform.


Nearly everyone agrees that when it comes to fisheries small is beautiful. The world renowned fisheries scientist Dr Daniel Pauly has even stated that "based on the cold facts... our society is, in many cases, better served by small-scale fisheries." For decades Pauly has defended small-scale fisheries as being more sustainable than their larger scale industrial counterparts. This has been depicted pictorially in the well known schema devised by David Thomson (the Thomson Table) in the 1980s, which compares various aspects of large and small-scale fisheries according to fuel use, employment, discards and other indicators of sustainability.


The October 10 2012 declaration on "Scale Matters; Quality Counts", issued by an alliance of around 160 small-scale fishing representatives, researchers and NGOs from across Europe under the banner of Oceans2012, also agrees. This acknowledged that "a significant proportion of the European fleet is small in scale and fishes in a non-intensive manner, using a range of seasonally diverse fishing methods on a range of species, with a relatively low impact on the ecosystem." And that "This artisanal segment of the coastal and inland fisheries generates considerable ancillary jobs and provides the social, economic and cultural fabric that sustains many communities, where it makes an important contribution to food supplies and political, social and economic stability."


As far as the EU is concerned, Mr Struan Stevenson, MEP and Co-Chair of the Fisheries Committee of the European Parliament informs that small-scale vessels account for 77% of the fleet in terms of numbers, but only 8% by tonnage, and 32% by engine power. Generally vessels under 12 metres are considered as small-scale, but most commonly are 5 to 7 metres in length, 3 tonnes in weight with engines of 35 kW. These vessels employ around 55% of the seagoing workforce in fishing, land about 27% of the catch by value, and (more than 90% of them) tend to use passive gears.


But what makes small beautiful is not just size, but what size implies. Small size is an indicator of sustainability, in as much as small in fishery terms implies using gears low of environmental impact, vessels with a relatively low carbon foot print, with activities rooted in coastal communities undertaken by small family based enterprises that provide jobs and income in areas with few economic or employment alternatives, and where women play a key role, if unseen and unrewarded economically.


And small is not necessarily beautiful. Where vessel size has been used as a regulatory measure, this has caused perverse effects, encouraging investment in powerful vessels that fall just under the maximum size limitations. So too the aggregated impact of small-scale vessels may have real consequences for stocks, and be harmful to stocks and to sensitive coastal habitats. Small, like large, also requires management and regulation; but not necessarily the same regulatory measures.


However, when it comes to size, no one seems to be able to agree on where small ends and large begins. Or put another way, defining or characterizing small-scale fisheries is a huge challenge. The English-speaking world prefers the term "small-scale" applied to its fisheries. In the UK for instance, all vessels under 10 metres in length are considered small-scale, never mind their engine power or fishing capacity. But this does not translate easily into French or Spanish, where "artisanal" is preferred. These countries also talk about "petits métiers" ("small activities" - France) and "artes menores" ("lesser gears" Spain), terms which refer to the small-scale nature of the activities and the gears (generally static) used. "There are also a number of terms that are used synonymously to mean more or less the same thing, including "coastal", "inshore", and "traditional", but which like "small" are rather vague and fluffy round the edges.


This has led some to argue that "size is not a useful descriptor for fishery management purposes". Rather that all fisheries (irrespective of size) should operate according to ecosystem based long term management plans ... matching capacity to resources, minimizing environmental impact and identifying the best management tools for the resource".


Another alternative to size is the "metier" concept, defined as "a group of fishing operations targeting a similar (assemblage of) species, using similar gear, during the same period of the year and/or within the same area and which are characterized by a similar exploitation pattern;"


"If you want to know what small-scale fishing is, just go down to the quay and ask any fisherman. He will tell you", advises Arthur Bogason, President of the Small Boat Owners Federation of Iceland. A view which implicitly ignores that across countries and regions, what is perceived as small-scale differs not only in size, but also in terms of kind of fishing equipment used, who owns and operates the fishing vessel (family owned and owner operated), how long the vessel spends at sea and so on. But Bogason does hit the nail on the head that small is relative, and is best defined at local level; that no one size can fit all.


The issue is not just of academic interest or for armchair speculation. It is an issue of pressing importance to resolve in the reform of the Common Fisheries Policy. At issue is whether a separate management regime, or a differentiated approach is required for small-scale fisheries in order to protect them from large scale fisheries and the kinds of management regime that apply to them.


In this regard, the European Commission has taken the bold step of proposing a definition of small-scale fisheries for the CFP reform, based on two criteria: vessel length (vessels under 12 metres) and gear used (non-trawl). The Commission proposals for reform also include a bold, if draconian measure: mandatory transferable fishing concessions (TFCs) for all Member States for the majority of managed stocks by 31 December 2013. However, their proposals also note that the "specific characteristics and socio-economic vulnerability of some small-scale fleets justify the limitation of the mandatory system of transferable fishing concessions to large vessels". Hence, they offer member states the option of excluding small-scale fisheries from such a regime.


And Commission support does not stop there. The new financial instrument, the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) is packed full of provisions for enabling small-scale fisheries to diversify and to improve their skills and marketing. Commissioner Damanaki has let it be known that under the new EMFF "the allocation of resources to a Member State is directly linked to the size of their small-scale coastal fleet. The bigger the small-scale fleet, the more money the Member State gets." And that "small-scale fishermen can be directly granted 75 percent of the cost of the project - as against a ratio of 50 percent that would apply to other beneficiaries. This means that a small-scale fisherman will have to chip in only 25 percent of the total budget."


All this would be fine if it were not for one catch. The Commission has no powers to enforce these measures. They are only proposals on paper, which now have to be approved or amended by the Council of Fisheries Ministers and the European Parliament (through co/decision). Secondly, if approved, these measures would only apply if Member States chose to apply them.


But even if applied, unless small-scale fisheries are given fair access to resources with a ring fenced access regime and quota allocation, such measures will not benefit them. As noted by Pat the Cope Gallagher "if the aim is to protect the small-scale sector, then it is important to ring fence a percentage of the quota for them. Otherwise there will be no future for this segment of the fleet".



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