The madness of EU stock assessments

Such is the conceit of Brussels bureaucrats they think the natural patterns of the oceans should subscribe to their timetable rather than the other way round, writes Iain McSween.

This is odd because we have a fiscal year running from April to March and a Farm year running from April to March.There are good reasons for these arrangements especially in agriculture where basically you plant crops one year and harvest the following year.  But whilst the same pattern of seasonality is to be found in the oceans, Brussels decrees that the ‘fish year’ should run from January to December.

This is a major mistake and, in some fisheries such as mackerel, you can be fishing the same shoal on 31 December and 1 January, but your catches will be attributed to different calendar years.
This is a nonsense as the biological assessments on which the permitted quota is based is derived from an age assessment of the stock.
Most stocks in the North Atlantic spawn in the spring but most stock assessments are done in the autumn.

So, in highly uncertain biological assessments, scientists are asked to base part of their calculation on fish that were born only a few months earlier and which are incredibly difficult to locate.

Recently we had the case of the ‘missing’ herring and, according to the scientists, the herring had virtually failed to reproduce because they could not find samples of herring larvae.

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EU scientific stock assessment has consistently shown a lack of understanding of the nature of breeding and migration patterns for species such as herring

But the oceans are a dynamic environment and because you find herring larvae in one place one year, it does not follow you will find them there every year, but, based on the absence of herring larvae in this particular instance, the herring quota was cut.        And what happened?  Plenty of young herring subsequently made an appearance, undermining the accuracy of a stock assessment made in haste.

If the scientists had a further four months to find the young fish, mistakes such as these could be avoided and, by simply changing the fish year to April /March basis would improve the quality of stock assessments and actually make more sense for fisheries management.

The present regime of starting the fishing year in January also causes the situation where fishing effort is maximised when fish stocks are spawning in the spring, after which their quality deteriorates.
Yet when stocks are at their healthiest and best towards the end of the year we have fisheries closures in December because quota is exhausted- this resultantly means financial hardship for the industry and fishermen are forced to target stocks at the poorest time.
A fisheries calendar running from April to March  would be welcomed by most fishermen and work with the natural biology of stocks.

The other aspect of the current fisheries year is that it leads to a farcical situation in late December when Ministers are asked to agree upon fish quotas for the coming year.
The talks normally take place in the week before Christmas and result in Ministers sitting up through long nights of negotiations thrashing out desperate deals.No one with any sense would make decisions that affect the livelihood of thousands of fishermen and process workers in such a cavalier manner.

Other countries such as Iceland that recognise the importance of good management and do so in a way that meets the requirements of the stocks and fishermen, but not the EU bureaucrats.
This is one of the reasons, among many, why free, independent nations such as Norway and Iceland have a well managed, sustainable and flourishing fishing industry and yet in the EU we have a story of continual decline.