More respect for scientific advice on TAC's and quotas is highly needed
28 October 2011
Several species in the Baltic Sea are swimming towards a rather dark 2012. This became clear after the final decision on TAC’s and quotas for next year was taken on Friday October 21st. This situation seems strange. Scientist, the fishing industry, environmental organisation as well as politicians in the EU all agree that fisheries in the Baltic Sea should be environmentally sustainable. Furthermore member states are obliged to limit catches to ensure that all species reach MSY (Maximum Sustainable Yield) by 2015. MSY is the largest catch that can be taken from a species without causing a decrease in the population. In spite of these broad agreement between the industry, politician and environmental organisation to end overfishing and let fish stocks recover, the decision taken on TAC’s and quotas for 2012 will put several species in jeopardy. One of the worst examples is the TACs for salmon.
Salmon is on HELCOMs red list and scientists have issued warnings about almost depleted stocks for several years. This year ICES (International Council for the Exploration of the Sea) advised a TAC of 54,000 individual salmons. The European Commission even lowered the number to 52,900 individuals in their proposal. However, the final outcome of the ministers decision is a TAC of salmon of 122,553 salmons – although this is a reduction of 51 per cent from last year’s TAC it is still more than twice as much fish as advised by science. It is not less worrying, that the countries voting against this large reduction are the rich countries around the Baltic Sea such as Sweden and Finland.
Added to the problem of the high TAC salmon also face the challenge of IUU (Illegal, unreported and unregulated) fishing. The lower TAC suggested by the commission could indicate that the commission is aware of the problem of illegal salmon catches. Either way Oceana urge the commission to include salmon in the IUU Regulation Catch Certification scheme.
We are extremely worried, that the ministers responsible to ensure a good environmental status of all species in the Baltic Sea before 2020 have so little respect for the scientific advice. This large gap between scientific advice on how to maintain stocks in the Baltic Sea and the outcome of the council’s decision clearly shows, that the decision procedure on how to set the TAC’s and quotas is wrong – or at least incapable of ensuring sustainable fish stocks.
Most people think that fishing quotas are decided by bureaucrats in faraway Brussels. However, the fisheries ministers from the member states make the final decision. Every year the European Commission asks ICES for advice on the state of the individual fish stocks. Based on this advice, the Commission sends a proposal to the Council of ministers. The ministers take the final decision by a vote. Only the ministers have voting right. In this way, the scientific advice is in risk of being watered down twice or completely overruled by the ministers own interest. The commission had for example proposed to reduce the TAC of unmanaged species by 25 per cent in accordance with the precautionary approach. This needed initiative was overruled by the ministers five minutes before the negotiations started.
Oceana requests the responsible politicians to show greater respect for scientific advice in the future. Meanwhile we can only hope that the individual member states are sensible enough to halt fishing for red listed and threatened species in the Baltic Sea.