Improving trans-national cooperation within European fishing regions

‘Sharing of common stock among nations’ was the topic chosen for the fourth ComFish Regional Participatory Stakeholder Event (RPSE) held in Santander, Spain, in May 2013. Aimed at tackling specific fisheries issues of the European Atlantic waters, such as those relating to species caught in the Bay of Biscay and along the Iberian Coast as well as in the Celtic Sea basins, the event brought together a variety of stakeholders from the Netherlands, Spain, Portugal and the UK.

The Bay of Biscay and the Iberian Coast stretch from southern Brittany to the south of Spain. The Celtic Seas include the English Channel, the Irish Sea, the Celtic Sea and the waters west of the British islands. Fishing is a key activity in Galicia (Spain), South Brittany (France), the Basque country (France and Spain) and the Lisbon region (Portugal). Small pelagics is the commodity group which is mostly caught in these waters, with sardine species fished most widely, followed by Spanish mackerel, blue whiting, jacks, hake, and albacore tuna. There is still an active fishing industry, with local small-scale fishing in the Bay of Biscay, for instance, as well as deep-sea fleets based in Brittany and Galicia.

The ComFish meeting in Santander, Spain was held in a converted lighthouse surrounded by blue seas and rocky cliffs.


Professionally facilitated meeting

The conference venue, a former lighthouse surrounded by crystal blue water and dramatic cliffs, was the perfect location chosen by the Spanish Institute of Oceanography, the host of the event. Organised in a dynamic yet informal manner, and with the help of a professional facilitator, the meeting enabled debate, reflection and effective participation on key issues relevant to European fisheries. In this context, representatives of government, industry, associations, research and NGOs had the opportunity over one and a half days to share their thoughts in an open and participative manner and finally reached consensus over a series of specific topics. After the opening remarks made by the director of the hosting organisation, the project coordinator introduced the project’s background, objectives and methodology to the participants. The overarching aim of the project, namely to contribute to improve the trans-national cooperation within the main fishing region in Europe was emphasised. Ultimately the results of fisheries research will be shared among stakeholders, contributing thus to enabling suitable solutions for the development of sustainable fisheries.

Furthermore, the audience was introduced to the specificities of small pelagics fishery with focus on main species (sardine, anchovy, mackerel and horse mackerel), distribution and availability of stocks, fishing quotas and management plans. Grouped in smaller teams, and with the help of ad-hoc rapporteurs chosen for each group, all the participants had the opportunity to express their opinions. “The fact of sharing information and perspectives among the different stakeholders involved in fisheries management in such an open and participatory way made the meeting very enriching for all the participants” was the opinion of Patricia Sanchez Abeal, communication officer at the European Fisheries Control Agency. A series of challenges (both specific and common to the European Atlantic fisheries) as well as possible solutions have been identified and grouped into four major themes: political, social, management and scientific.


Fishing effort should be commensurate with resource

At the political level the need for improving cooperation between countries (e.g. in data exchange) concerning the migration of species was highlighted among other issues. Moreover, international agreements need to be “translated” at regional management levels, so that the fishing efforts are adjusted to the availability of resources. At European level, more investment is needed in science, specifically in data collection as well as in systems to control the usage of total allowable catches in explosive fisheries. “The ComFish meeting provided a good opportunity to debate pelagic fishing issues with other stakeholders. Although communication between representatives in the pelagic sector is by no means perfect there is a functioning structure organised mainly through the Pelagic RAC. Lessons learned from the pelagic model may well improve communications in other sectoral groups” was the opinion of Ian Gatt, Chief Executive, Scottish Pelagic Fishermen's Association.

The event brought together stakeholders from the Netherlands, Spain, Portugal and the UK to discuss issues related to fisheries in the Bay of Biscay, the Celtic Sea basins and along the Iberian coast.

Among the social aspects support to small scale fishermen to organise them more efficiently and to enable them to participate in the decision-making process was underlined. Concomitantly, greater involvement of stakeholders, particularly the regional advisory councils and local groups, is also desirable, as well as improving the transparency of the decision making process through longer public consultations. Stronger links between research and education are needed to effectively communicate the health benefits associated with consuming fish, as well as information concerning labelling and eco-labelling. There are many good examples of good management initiatives at national/local level. These include the Portuguese working group on sardine fishery, regional fishermen organisations in the UK, and the Mediterranean sandeel fishery in Catalonia. However, at regional/sea basin level and considering the high dynamism of the pelagic species, the management issues become more complex (e.g. how to establish long term management plans that can be adjusted to the specificities of stocks; how to implement management practices that are transparent, adaptable to the variability of data, as well as relevant to the nations involved).


Communicating the knowledge is as important as acquiring it

“Science is key for fisheries; we need to improve and increase our knowledge to manage resources in a sustainable way. But the communication of knowledge is equally relevant because we are managing public resources, investing public money in research programmes and advising for management plans that establish how, who, when, how much and where these resources can be exploited. Therefore it must be explained to our society the arguments which drive the decisions taken around fisheries management. For this reason, the communication of the science related to those tasks must be understood as a main component of the fisheries management” felt Carlos Montero Castaño, the Spain and Portugal Fisheries Officer of the Marine Stewardship Council. Scientific advice is given on catches of fish stocks, where sufficient data are available, but this is not possible in cases where the discard amounts are not known or cannot be reliably estimated. There are many challenges related to the amount and quality of data available especially for smaller stocks. From the scientific perspective understanding the interactions between the ecosystem and the pelagic stock is needed, as well as understanding their annual life cycle, the patterns of migration of high mobile species (e.g. mackerel) or the trends of the environment, such as climate change.

The event was an excellent opportunity to provide answers to questions and possible solutions to problems for the European Atlantic Fisheries, but it is the responsibility of all stakeholders to contribute to their practical implementation. The purpose is not to provide easy “one size fits all” solutions, but to stimulate innovative thinking and to contribute to finding the right answers.

Stay tuned for the following workshop on Mediterranean fishery scheduled to take place in September 2013 in Sicily, Italy. For further information please see

Anca Sfetcovici
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