Northeast Atlantic Small Pelagic Fishery
This case study is about a fishery operating out of the Netherlands, UK, Denmark & Germany that targets pelagic fish using vessels greater than 40m in length. The case study focuses on the resilience of the fisheries and the fisheries system in which they operate, to the perturbations caused by climate change. The fisheries are considered the stakeholders (individuals/companies) that own the vessels/businesses. The fisheries were shocked in the 1970s by a collapse in their targeted fish stocks caused by overfishing. Those fishers that survived this shock responded by accessing capital to reinvest and change their business model. Climate change is currently impacting the distribution of the stocks (an ecological asset). Resilience is provided by the portfolio fishing method (seasonal sequential mixed fishery), flexibility attributes of mobility and responsiveness, together with the socio-economic assets of wealth and reserves, capital, and learning and agency. The major risk is the inflexibility in the governance dimension, with entrenched actors protective of their influence and opportunities. A failure to adapt the organisation of the fisheries management is the greatest risk posed by climate change that threatens the resilience currently in the asset and agency domains.
Background of the Fishery
The case study is the fishery operating out of the Netherlands, UK, Denmark & Germany that targets pelagic fish using vessels greater than 40m length. Although operating from different countries, and using 2 types of vessel (refrigerated sea water, RSW, or freezer trawlers, which store, process and freeze onboard), the fishery of approximately 50 vessels seasonally, sequentially targets mackerel, herring, blue whiting and horse mackerel, with additional species supplementary species (e.g. greater silver smelt, sandeel, redfish etc.). Their total annual catch is approximately 850,000 tonnes per year with a first sale value of approximately €350,000,000 usually for human consumption. The fishery operates in the North East Atlantic on and off the continental shelf, in national jurisdictions and in the areas beyond national jurisdiction. Thus they are managed through national, coastal states and regional fisheries management organisations. The owners and crews are predominantly European. The main management tool is the setting of total allowable catches, based on scientific advice. Separate coastal state negotiations occur for each of the stocks fished. There are a number of agreed and proposed management plans for some of the fisheries, which are also evaluated by scientists against precautionary and MSY criteria.
Climate change is likely already impacting the distribution and productivity of the fish stocks, and also the management of the fisheries as the stock shift into different jurisdictions (Baudron et al 2020). Two European horizon projects have invested the current impacts and potential future consequences of climate change (CERES, Peck et al., 2020, and CLIMEFISH, https://climefish.eu/). Projections suggest small changes in the availability of fish with a small increase in both mackerel and blue whiting spawning stock biomass, but reduction for some herring stocks. Further changes in the distribution of stocks are extremely likely, increasing the complexity in the negotiations on fishing rights allocations and access. In the social and economic dimension the risks posed by climate change are low. The two EU projects suggest that the pelagic industry in northern Europe has a low climate risk, with larger fishing vessels and those which fish with pelagic nets exhibiting the lowest climate vulnerability risk compared to other fleet metiers in Europe.
The fishery is considered resilient across ecological, socio-economic, and governance dimensions. The mixed seasonal fishery provides a portfolio effect to changes in the availability of specific stocks, and the ability to fish further from home ports, across a wider range of sea and ocean to ensure fishing opportunities. The fishers are organised, well resourced, adaptive to opportunities and challenges, utilise a diverse range of knowledge and swiftly incorporate new technology. They operate effectively, generally to their advantage across the governance system with visible leadership, despite their polycentric organisation. They have great control over their supply chain and marketing and the doors to the top level of fisheries politics are open to them. The attributes of resilience are apparent across all five resilience domains of assets, flexibility, organisation, learning, and agency. Some could argue that these fishers have a high degree of organisation and learning, leading to great agency, power and self-determination.
The fishery could be considered to show negative traits for the attributes of transparency and participation, with the owners of the fisheries potentially being seen forming closed clubs. There is little social diversity and there are observable distinctions between the roles, and prominence interests of the owners, organisational representatives, vessel officers and crew. There is little formal integration with other sectors in the siloed governance system (their power and influence is in the fisheries management governance system), and reducing their influence beyond their own arena of operation (the failure to address issues of conservation concern (e.g. bycatch and fishing in MPAs) and the loss of influence compared to offshore renewable energy production as an examples).
The fishers (owners of the vessels) are adept at changing fishing practices, incorporating new technology, diversifying target fish stocks. They appreciate the value and respond to the evidence from diverse knowledge sources. The status of the fish stocks and opportunities for the fisheries are well known and supported by a very sophisticated fisheries science system. The fishers/companies have wealth and reserves with access to further capital. Their agency and ability to influence their direct milieu is high.
However, there is a risk in the governance dimension. Here poor performance in the domains of flexibility and organisation are likely to increase risk. The complex fisheries management system and roles and power of multiple actors constitutes a major constraint on governance. The current management system is not able to adapt to the changes in the distribution across jurisdictions. Unless this is resolved, further complications should be expected in the quota and access negotiations in both Coastal states and Northeast Atlantic Fisheries Commission (NEAFC). This has already led to loss of sustainability accreditation and may lead to further loss of markets in the developed world. There are no apparent champions for change, or visible leaders coming forward to resolve the growing impasse. The complication of the UK leaving the EU and becoming an independent coastal state has further disrupted the dynamics of the management system. This inflexibility restricts the variety of applicable adaptation/mitigation governance measures and their effectiveness.
The attributes of the fishery that provide resilience to climate change are many, including an ecological asset that maintains opportunities for exploitation in the face of climate change and positive socio-economic attributes across assets (wealth, reserves, capital), learning and agency. The major risk is the inflexibility in the governance dimension, with entrenched actors protective of their influence and opportunities. A failure to adapt the organisation of the fisheries management is the greatest risk posed by climate change that threatens the resilience currently in the asset and agency domains. The domains are interdependent.
Peck MA, Catalán IA, Damalas D, Elliott M, Ferreira JG, Hamon KG, Kamermans P, Kay S, Kreiß CM, Pinnegar JK, Sailley SF, Taylor NGH (2020) Climate Change and European Fisheries and Aquaculture: ‘CERES’ Project Synthesis Report. Hamburg. DOI: 10.25592/uhhfdm.804
Acknowledgments: Kathy Mills, Julia Mason and Martin Pastoors are thanked for the critical review of the case study.
Photo: Fishing vessel in the northeast Atlantic small pelagic fishery. © Martin Pastoors