RFroese 20161114The contrast could barely have been more striking: fully 85 percent of stocks of fish and seafood in European waters are currently below healthy levels - yet, if managed to recover, fisheries could harvest 57 percent or five million tons more on a sustainable basis!

Such is the result of the study of 397 stocks by an international team of researchers led by Dr. Rainer Froese of GEOMAR, Kiel, Germany. The independent experts found that the state of health of only 47 European stocks (12 percent) complied with requirements of the European Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). Some 254 of the stocks (64 percent) are overfished. But it's not only a matter of legality, but as much a question of losing huge benefits for literally all stakeholders, foremost the fishers themselves.

Encouragingly, the analysis also shows that, depending on the actual state of stocks, only a few years of recovery would often restore healthy population sizes. If allowed to rebuild their biomass, some species would yield even three times more than today. The researchers show that this would be the case, e.g. for haddock and cod in the North Sea, for cod and herring in the Baltic and for sardines in the Cantabrian Sea in Spain.

Comparing ecoregions, the scientists reveal that the Barents Sea and Norwegian Sea have the highest proportion of stocks (50 percent) complying with the goals of the CFP, while the Mediterranean Sea has less than one percent compliance - only one stock out of 169 is managed to ensure high yields on a sustainable basis.

This means that current catches are predominantly from stocks too small to provide high harvests in the durable manner. It also means exercising much more fishing pressure that would be needed for higher yields from bigger stocks. So, both biological and economical considerations confirm that breaching the policy presciptions creates waste and major losses, in some cases, like for Baltic cod or the whole Mediterranean, massively so.

The study is a wake-up call for politicians to follow scientific advice - at last. The new Common Fisheries Policy has made overfishing illegal and mandates that stocks should be in a healthy condition by 2020 so as to produce high yields on a sustainable basis. To achieve these objectives, the analysis delivers a solid basis for action once healthy population sizes are regained. Cautious management in this context would mean to fix 90 percent of the nominal maximum sustainable yield for each individual species as the target as species interact with one another in nature.

"The recovery of the fish stocks must be enabled by urgent conservation measures and multi-annual management plans based on the scientific advice. A cautious management of renewable marine resources is ecologically and economically beneficial, in Europe and in other parts of the world", summarises Dr. Cornelia E Nauen, President of Mundus maris.

The first beneficiaries of sustainable management would be the fishing companies, which thanks to healthy stocks would have to resort to less effort in fishing and also cause less environmental damage, e.g. through avoiding by-catch. "Local production means fresher produce for consumers, good jobs in Europe, less fuel consumption and thus climate protection and an end to the competition for scarce fish with small-scale fishers in developing countries," continues Dr. Nauen.

Long-distance fishing by European fleets without resources to exploit in Europe have long been a bone of international contention. Developing countries often suspect some degree of illegal or unreported fishing as their surveillance means leave to be desired, while fishers themselves complain about an excess of controls wherever they go. Legal access rights to fishing grounds elsewhere represent moreover signficant extra-cost to the European taxpayer, while contributing only around seven percent of overall supplies of fisheries products in Europe. Just these few additional considerations illustrate how much can be gained from full implementation of the CFP.

This independent study is the most comprehensive scientific analysis as yet of fisheries resources in European Seas affected by the CFP. It was commissioned by the environmental non-governmental organisation OCEANA. It was presented in Brussels at a press conference, 14 Nov. 2016.

The researchers used a new method to enable a more complete coverage of these 397 stocks of 120 species of fish and invertebrates. The method produces results broadly equivalent to conventional stock assessment, but requires less sophisticated and expensive research.

Mundus maris therefore recommends making it available as soon as possible to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the UN for their bi-annual assessment of the world fisheries resources. It is moreover particularly desirable to train scientists and managers from developing countries in the approach to help make sustainable use of marine resources the norm.

Read the press release here.

The full study can be downloaded from the GEOMAR website or by clicking here.