An international group representing European small-scale fishermen says ITQs should not form any part of EU fisheries management policy, reports Tim Oliver.

Low Impact Fishers of Europe (LIFE) says ITQs are still on the EU management agenda despite having a disproportionately negative impact on small-scale coastal fishermen and fishing communities. It says once they are introduced they are a one-way road with no return.

LIFE has produced a paper that analyses rights-based fisheries management from the perspective of small-scale fishermen and concludes that under ITQs regimes they always tend to lose out.

LIFE’s paper and comments come as Sweden prepares to establish an ITQ system for demersal fisheries in the Baltic and North Sea this month (January, 2017). “Although it is reported that measures will be included to protect small-scale fishermen, much will depend on whether they receive a fair quota share to begin with, and to what extent the small-scale quota is ring-fenced from the quota trading system,” says LIFE.

The inshore representative body says ITQs are a system based on an economic logic that does not account for wider impacts and different forms of value. “They make access to fisheries more difficult for small-scale fishermen, prevent access for new fishers, result in excessive concentration of quotas, drive inequality, and negatively impact small coastal communities,” says LIFE.

Opposing the introduction of ITQs, LIFE says many of their supposed benefits are ‘hypothetical, false, ideologically motivated, exaggerated, or all of these’ and have caused ‘no end of controversy’ where they have been introduced. They do not improve sustainability or stewardship, and only improve efficiency in a narrow economic sense.

The organisation says sustainability and stewardship are mainly determined by ‘rigorously set and enforced TACs, and by engaging fishers in genuine co-management’.

“Alternative forms of allocating fishing opportunities can deliver the social, environmental and economic benefits that the CFP seeks to achieve, without jeopardising the survival of the small-scale fleet and the wider value they provide to society,” says LIFE.

It says the alternatives presented in its paper would require different approaches to managing the small-scale and large-scale sectors that would include:

● A ring-fenced community quota or quota pool, allocated to and managed by a small-scale coastal PO, cooperative or other organisation collectively owned and run by the small-scale fishermen
● Quota allocation based on social, economic and environmental criteria – as per Article 17 of the CFP – to reward those who fish the most sustainably
● Capacity regulated by effort control, rather than by economic efficiency
● The state maintains clear ownership of the TACs, with unambiguous legally-binding procedure for revoking rights where appropriate.

LIFE says that because of the controversy they generate it is ‘essential that we confront and examine this approach to allocating fishing rights, given the risk that they are making a comeback in the EU’.

LIFE points out that compulsory Transferable Fishing Concessions (TFCs) were initially proposed by the Commission during the last CFP reform and that although they were rejected they are still an integral part of the reformed CFP.

“This leaves open the opportunity for member states to institute transferable fishing rights systems, but without compulsory safeguard measures at EU level to ensure responsible behaviour of the industry, including the need to protect small-scale fisheries from the perverse effects of ITQs.”

While the December Fisheries Council resulted in significantly increased quotas for many stocks, “in the main these benefits will accrue to larger-scale fishing companies, rather than to small-scale fishermen,” says LIFE. Increasingly they must depend on non-quota species, as the quota allocation process discriminates against them.

LIFE argues that fish should remain a public resource ‘as a matter of principle’ and that access to stocks should be managed and regulated by the government. “Privatisation of access rights to fisheries resources is unacceptable to LIFE, and not in line with the public interest, with the interests of our members, or those of coastal communities,” says the organisation.

It demands that where ITQs or similar systems are imposed, there should be adequate safeguards to ensure that only active fishermen are able to hold quotas; that genuine limits on the concentration of quotas are set and enforced; that sufficient and equitable amounts of non-transferable quota are set aside and ring-fenced for small-scale fishermen, and that a proportion of this quota is reserved to ensure young fishermen can enter the industry.

But LIFE urges that, above all, the alternatives to ITQs it outlines are considered before the introduction of ITQs leads down ‘a road with no return’.

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