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Regulation by Catch Limits

12.   Discussion of this topic was started by the presentation of the working papers (1.1 to 1.13). These gave a general over-view of the topic (paper 1.1), a description of some of the processes and problems involved in the scientific work of determining catch limits (papers 1.2 and 1.4) and the practical experience in a number of United States fisheries (papers 1.5, 1.9, 1.11, 1.12 and 1.13), in Canada (paper 1.7), in Chile (paper 1.6), and in the European Economic Community (EEC) (papers 1.3 and 1.10). To the extent that a common theme ran through all these papers it was that the implementation of catch limits was likely to run into severe difficulties. However, the same or similar difficulties were likely to be met by any other method of control. Properly applied catch limits are capable of being a useful, if not the most useful, way of managing fisheries.

13.   Before starting to apply catch limits, or indeed any form of management, there must be a clear understanding of the objectives. This need not be a detailed and explicit statement, which could be harmful in the future if conditions change and which could arouse expectations that could not be met.

(i) Setting the Total Allowable Catch (TAC)

14.   Given the objectives, the first stage in control by catch limits is to determine the amount of the total catch that should be taken. Such objectives could be rather specific (for example, the achievement of a target stock size or fishing mortality) or more general (e.g., to avoid over-fishing, or to increase stock size). Whatever the objectives this is essentially a scientific task, but there was some discussion on who should take the final decision on the actual value. Some participants felt that the scientists should confine themselves to spelling out options and the biological effects of the different options. Others felt that scientists should, in the light of their understanding of the resource, and of the objectives of management, set a definite total allowable catch (TAC) or safe biological limit. This difference might reflect the varying experiences of participants, especially whether (as in multi-national fisheries) management decisions were taken by consensus or committees, or (as in purely national fisheries) by a single identifiable authority. The state of development of the industry was also relevant.

15.   The Consultation recognized that the changes in fishery jurisdiction around the world has changed drastically the conditions under which the catch limits (or other controls) were set. In considering the concept of “surplus” in the text of the Law of the Sea treaty, it was decided for the purpose of the Consultation to consider that the coastal state had full discretion in setting the allowable catch, and its own harvesting capacity. However, it was recognized that alternative interpretations had been suggested.

16.   Emphasis was placed on the large amount of work involved in calculating TACs, at least in the detail and with the frequency required in the North-East Atlantic. Concern was expressed at the costs involved, and on the impact of the workload on the general scientific activity. This implied that scientists were generally involved in considering only short-term problems, to the exclusion of those posed in the medium and long term. It was felt that this was likely to affect the overall quality of the scientific advice.

17.   Calculations need not always be done annually. The frequency of reassessment could be less for long-lived stocks, for stocks with relatively low exploitation rates, and for those in which the recruitment did not vary much.

18.   The Consultation considered the precision and reliability that might be expected, and was actually being achieved, in calculating TACs. It noted that the more reliable figures of TACs had been those produced by working groups in which the scientists involved had been closely familiar with the fishery, or where recruitment varied little. It was suggested that the precision of current TACs could be increased by more careful design of the data collection and analysis - as well as by a general expansion of research work - but that there was an irreducible minimum - perhaps 10% - below which the variance could not be reduced. Of the factors involved, the most important was the estimate of the strength of the recruiting year-class.

19.   It was pointed out that the precision required, as well as the frequency of re-assessment, depended on the management strategy. It it was aimed at squeezing as much as possible out of the resource, the penalties for error could be severe, and high precision was needed. This further implies that high quality data must be collected at correspondingly high cost. On the other hand, if the manager was content with a rather smaller catch, leaving a reasonable safety margin, larger errors could be accepted. There were also other similar trade-offs, e.g., between the average catch level and the year-to-year variation around that average. Processors might well prefer a lower average with lower variation.

(ii) Allocation of shares on a TAC

20.   Once a limit on the total catch has been set, this total is usually allocated in some way. In an international fishery the first stage is to make national allocations; these allocations (and the total catch in a single-nation fishery) may then be divided among different groups within the country. This process causes problems which are often severe. Nevertheless, it was agreed that these were necessary evils. If there were no allocation, and a ceiling on the total catch was the only control, then there would be no check on the growth of capacity. This creates a number of difficulties including the likelihood of severe disruption in the seasonal pattern of fishing. This was likely to cause severe economic inefficiencies, with the risk of the type of economic disaster as had occurred in the Alaska king crab fishery. It was also pointed out that even if no explicit decision on allocation were taken, this decision itself resulted in an implicit allocation of benefits, e.g., to those who were in the best position to catch more fish early in the season.

21.   So far as national allocation in a multi-national fisheries were concerned, four situations were distinguished: fishing with open access; transboundary (shared) stocks; anadromous stocks; and foreign fishing in a national EEZ. Under the pre-LOS conditions, the open access fishing was the typical situation. Now, high sea stocks such as tunas are the only examples.

22.   The European Economic Community (EEC) is a unique example of a group of nations which have agreed to combine their fishery resources and act as a single coastal State, both allocating their common resources amongst themselves on an agreed basis and negotiating as a unit with States which are not members of the EEC concerning allocations to these non-member States.

23.   The Consultation believed that to attempt to establish scientific criteria for the allocation of stocks among nations was inappropriate, since such decisions will depend on many additional factors. However, for shared stocks, greater emphasis is likely to be placed on biological characteristics of the stocks, e.g., location of spawning groups. These could provide an objective initial basis for negotiations. For this it would be useful for the biological advice to come from a wide group - even including those not directly concerned with the negotiations - thus reducing the chances of bias. This was felt to be true even by those who believed that the actual negotiations should be restricted to those immediately concerned.

24.   For stocks found wholly within a single country's EEZ, decisions on the share, if any, taken by foreign vessels were made solely by the coastal State. For anadromous stocks, this decision is made by the nation where the fish spawn. In terms of allocation, less attention is now being paid to historic performance, and more to other factors - compliance with regulations in previous years, cooperation in research or enforcement, access to markets, etc. Where historic performance was still relevant, it was noted that an accurate record on the relevant information did not always exist.

25.   The Consultation noted that it was usually implied that the ultimate objective of the coastal State was to phase out all foreign fishing. This need not be the best policy. For example, several stocks vary greatly from year to year, or over a longer period, in abundance or in availability. A sensible policy in this case might be to develop the local fishing capacity only to the level which could operate successfully in the poor years. Any excess over domestic requirements in good years could be offered to foreign fleets, who would have to deal with the problems of over-capacity in poor years.

26.   Allocations within a country can improve economic efficiency and equity to an extent which depends on the pattern of allocation. Allocations to individual enterprises can enable them to spread their catches through the season so as to achieve the best prices, or take their catch at least cost. Allocations would normally be in terms of a fixed proportion of the TAC, but variations in the distribution or availability of the fish may make it difficult to achieve this fixed percentage in each and every season.

27.   It was stressed that, without allocation, the indirect effects of quota controls (e.g., a short open season) could change the relative efficiencies of different types of vessels. Large, expensive and technologically advanced vessels were seldom the most efficient. However, smaller vessels usually need to be able to operate over an extended period; the large vessels tend to be used, and appear more efficient, when the open season is drastically reduced.

(iii) Administration of catch limits

28.   Administration and enforcement of any regulation must involve the fishermen. Without the understanding and reasonable collaboration of the fishermen, enforcement is difficult if not impossible. It was pointed out that when fishermen were convinced that a regulation was necessary and fair, they were the best policemen for the enforcement of the regulation. On the other hand, there were some regulations which have had the effect of forcing honest men to become law-breakers to maintain their livelihood. It was felt that every effort should be taken to avoid this situation.

29.   The Consultation noted that there were some differences among countries in the degree to which fish buyers and fish processors are involved in enforcement. It was pointed out that in respect of, for example, fish caught in excess of a catch quota, the position of a fish buyer could be considered as analogous to the receiver of stolen goods. Enforcement of catch quotas was likely to be easier if both the fisherman and the buyer of his fish could be prosecuted for breaking the regulation.

30.   There was considerable discussion of the impact of catch limits on the quality of statistical data, particularly the figures of total catch used in stock assessment. It was recognized that there were a number of fisheries in which the figures officially reported are almost certainly substantially smaller than the real values. Some participants suggested that it might be useful to set up parallel systems of data collection (for enforcement and research). Others felt strongly that this was undesirable, particularly in the long term. Such systems, and also the custom of “confidentiality” of statistical returns, could be interpreted as an official acceptance of mis-reporting.

31.   Log-books are an important source of data. Two uses were mentioned: a compulsory system for enforcement, and a system to provide statistical data in more detailed form than was generally available from past records. These uses should not be confused, nor should there be any attempt to operate two sets of systems - fishermen have enough to do already. Where the catch controls are complex, including distinct figures for different areas and stocks, some form of compulsory log-book is likely to be an essential adjunct to other forms of control.

32.   In the last instance, control and enforcement involves a court of law. The more complicated the regulation - a quota of 13 cwt per crew member per week was mentioned as an example - the more chance there was that legal proceedings would meet problems in such matters as definitions - when is a boat actually fishing, what is the actual size of crew, etc. It was emphasized that the judicial procedure and in particular the sentencing policy could play a key role. The confidence of fishermen in the effectiveness of regulations and their willingness to assist in proceedings against offenders is undermined if the penalty is mild, and the offender is back fishing the next day. It was noted that in Alaska the objective in setting penalties on serious offenders was to ensure that they ceased to go fishing.

33.   Enforcement is expensive - as indicated by the costs of the vessels and aircraft used by the United States (document 1.8). Many participants felt the current costs were too high by any reasonable standard, though were often unavoidable. Attention was given to possible methods of reducing costs. The use of fishing boats for surveillance duties was suggested. The possibilities of using special hardware (e.g., data loggers, similar to aircraft “black boxes”) were raised. The type of hardware most often considered was some form of transponder which identified the vessel and its position, and was linked to a satellite. Moreover, with present technology these were not cost-effective. On the other hand, simple aircraft could maintain surveillance over large areas at a reasonable cost.

Alternative approaches to effort regulation and some special problems

34.   The general over-view paper (2.1) as well as the papers reviewing experience with Pacific halibut (2.5), in Cuba (2.7), and in Israel (2.8) noted that alternative approaches have been used from earliest times and in most regions. They are still the main controlling measures in traditional fisheries, especially in inshore fisheries. Some of these measures are embodied in regulations; others result from various cultural practices specific to particular areas.

35.   The Consultation noted that the objectives of introducing these measures had been varied. The main impacts and subsequent rationalization of these measures often differed from the reason initially put forward for management. This feature has led to a great deal of confusion on the true impact and potential of these types of measures. The following classes of objectives were considered:

  1. Economic: e.g., a fishery may be closed at the time of poor market conditions, or when the fish are in poor condition, or at times or for areas and seasons when poisonous fish or shellfish are likely to be caught.

  2. Equity: e.g., the closure of belts close to the coast to fishing by trawlers is a common feature in many areas, particularly in the tropics, to protect the small-scale fishermen, and to minimize conflicts (e.g., in Malaysia).

  3. Social: e.g., to avoid fishing at times of the year when weather or other conditions mean that fishing is dangerous or when other activities are more important.

  4. Biological: e.g., closure of nursery grounds and closed seasons can be measures to protect juveniles; they may also be used to protect by-catch species (e.g., the North Sea Norway pout box). Closed seasons can be used to protect spawning fish.

36.   Closed seasons have also been applied to fisheries, such as lobster and lane snapper in Cuba, and blue fin tuna for which the vulnerability is so high at certain times that direct controls alone (e.g., limiting the number of vessels) might not be effective in keeping the exploitation rate to an acceptable level. In multi-species fisheries closed areas and seasons can help adjust the balance of fishery pressure between different species.

37.   Closed seasons can be quite effective in protecting highly vulnerable stocks; when used as the main measure for controlling effort, such closures can result in impractically short seasons. This may lead to a loss in economic productivity as capacity rates expand and fishermen operate far below their maximum efficiency. However, an advantage of seasonal closures is that they can be relatively easy to enforce.

38.   These indirect methods have advantages; they can be relatively cheap and easy to administer; they can be quite acceptable to fishermen; and they can be a simple way to administer TACs. As used in Cuba and Iceland, closed areas/seasons have proved useful tools as part of a responsive, hands-on system of management.

39.   In further discussion it was noted that the implementation of closed areas or seasons could involve significant legal and administrative problems. Inshore fishermen do not always carry charts and therefore may not know where closed areas are. Definitions of areas are not always obvious, e.g., 3-mile limits from base lines. Definitions of areas are sometimes arbitrary (by latitude and longitude) and may not seem sensible to fishermen. The use of coordinates expressed in terms of navigational aids (e.g., Loran, Decca) where these are used by fishermen would be more acceptable and less ambiguous. Where fishing is allowed for some species in an area, but not for others, then infringements may be difficult to spot. With closures a precise legal definition of fishing will be needed. The legal definition of fishing proposed in one country was that it is initiated with the setting of the gear, and finished when the last fish is removed from the water.

40.   Enforcement of closed areas and seasons involves the same question of costs and effectiveness as were noted in relation to catch quotas though the costs are generally less. The possible use of transponders, which could establish the actual pattern of fishing activity was again mentioned. Aerial surveillance can often be very cost effective in controlling closed areas.

41.   Closed areas or seasons designed to prevent fishing on some species may prevent legitimate catches of other species. Closed seasons may affect single stock fishermen more than those who can divert their effort to other areas and resources. Closed areas created by local authorities/States may be contradictory in impact and may confuse and confound national management aims.

42.   In conclusion, the Consultation felt that area and season closures can be very useful for fine tuning of fisheries in combination with other measures, but less efficient alone as prime methods of management. When enforcement is feasible and cost effective, parts of the stock (e.g., juveniles) needing special attention, or all of the stock during periods or in areas of high vulnerability can be protected. However, closed seasons and areas do need to be determined carefully, with particular attention being paid to their impact on other species-especially if effort is diverted elsewhere. In general, these methods should be combined with other more direct approaches to management, especially if fishing pressure is high. It was noted that the long-term consequences of such schemes on the distribution of benefits between fishermen should be carefully examined, because there could be effects which were not intended. Cultural differences in mobility, etc. may result in their having different effects in different countries.

43.   Clearly these regulations are most effective when used in conjunction with effort control or quotas as in the Pacific halibut fishery. Some special methods such as seasons of variable duration that can be closed when catch rates fall below a given level may provide a useful tool for some fisheries. A problem common to all of these indirect measures is that they require the cooperation of fishermen to ensure their effectiveness.

44.   Closed areas, reserves, refuges and similar measures can help protect against over-fishing of coastal fishery resources and can contribute to other societal goals in the coastal zone. An alternative measure to deal with mis-use of coastal resources has been the allocation of property rights, either to the fish or to access to fishing grounds.

Gear selectivity/mesh regulations

45.   Papers were presented describing the general principles of mesh regulation, especially in trawl fisheries (Document 2.4) and the ways in which different types of fishing, and different methods of operating similar gears, can result in catches of very different species and sizes of fish (Document 2.3). The specific experiences with varied use of fixed gear in the halibut and other fisheries were also reported (Document 2.6). The principle of mesh regulation is simple. A mesh size is chosen to release the small, juvenile, fast-growing fish, while retaining those large enough to be a marketable size. This was felt to work well in single-species fisheries, e.g., for cod around Iceland. There were big problems in the multi-species fisheries in the tropics. The optimum mesh size for large species is considerably greater than that for shrimp or the small finfish. Even in these fisheries there could be some benefit from increasing mesh size from the very small size currently used in many fisheries, though the mesh size likely to be adopted would still be very small in relation to the optimum for the larger species; thus other measures are needed. It was suggested that in these tropical fisheries control on the material of the nets (e.g., use of monofilament) might also be useful in adjusting their selectivity. This could be relatively easy to enforce where most material was imported.

46.   The Consultation also noted that control of mesh size in trawls was not the only example of management by gear selectivity. Meshes of gillnets, sizes of hooks, and escape gaps in lobster pots were other examples.

47.   The subsequent discussions stressed the need to work closely with industry in the development and implementation of gear regulations. A number of ways in which fishermen can avoid or frustrate such restrictions were cited. Fishermen are more likely to conform with regulations if they understand and support the purpose behind them. It was also pointed out that the benefits of changes in gear regulations, e.g., the use of a larger mesh, are likely to be preceded by a short-term loss in landings for a period while the fish released grow. Fishermen, who see the small fish escape, can be expected to oppose the regulation unless further justification is given. The Consultation noted that it is difficult to demonstrate unequivocally the benefits from mesh regulations, even when they are successful. The reason is that the natural variability in fish stocks will mask any increases in the average yield.

48.   Much of the discussion focussed on issues related to mesh size restrictions. A number of the practical difficulties with compliance and enforcement which had been made in a number of fisheries were reiterated. The biological bases for mesh restrictions and their effectiveness in preserving stocks or achieving optimal yields, particularly in multi-species and tropical fisheries, were questioned. In addition, their physical effectiveness was queried in relation to the damage that might occur to fish passing through the meshes. Nevertheless, size limits and mesh size regulations may provide a base level of protection to the stock in many fisheries, particularly if, without such control, the fish would be caught before they become mature and spawned. In this particular case, minimum size limits, if they can be enforced, should at least prevent the stock from becoming excessively depleted even if other measures controlling fishing mortality are temporarily ineffective. They are particularly useful for those species (e.g., lobsters, scallops) where under-sized specimen can be returned to the sea alive.

49.   A number of speakers referred to refinements or additions to management systems which may assist regimes based on gear restrictions. Monitoring of key species in a fishery, and selective quotas or closures, were considered to be important adjuncts to gear restrictions in many circumstances.

50.   Changes in gear regulations should, where possible, allow time for the fishermen to replace old gear in normal rotation rather than force them to scrap useful equipment.

51.   A number of speakers noted that the most successful fishermen frequently voluntarily use larger mesh sizes than the regulations require, presumably because of a better market price for larger fish in many areas. Also, fishermen are more likely to evade gear restrictions when fisheries are over-fished and economically depressed.

52.   It was noted that mesh size regulations had often been introduced when the fishing intensity had already substantially reduced the average size of the fish present. The mesh size regulation then often merely reflected the de facto situation. In such situations the mesh size regulation would be ineffective unless coupled with some control over fishing intensity.

53.   New fishing technology is allowing fish to be located more quickly and accurately and nets to be shot more frequently. Thus gear regulations will need to be continually monitored to determine their continued effectiveness. Where fishing power increases markedly, adjustments in regulations may be required.

54.   Discussions generally concluded that gear restrictions and/or size limits can be important components of a management regime; they can be used with considerable flexibility and sophistication to achieve the economic and biological objectives sought. Under favourable conditions - especially in single-species fisheries where the restrictions are understood and accepted by the fishermen - they have been successful. Even in these circumstances they cannot resolve a number of problems, including the economic problem of over-capacity. In other conditions, they may be of very limited value.

55.   The Consultation noted that in Alaska (where penalties for infringement are severe), in a multi-species fishery, fishermen have been successful in keeping the catches of non-target species within the legal limit.

Responses of fisheries

56.   Two papers (2.2 and 2.9) were presented describing the dynamics of fisheries and fish stocks. Both of these studies emphasized that fisheries were dynamic systems, and that events in fisheries, even in the absence of active management intervention, were more complex than described by the simple, static models.

57.   The first paper noted that all types of unregulated or open-access fisheries can do damage to stocks, and evidence from prehistory and history bears this out even for artisanal examples.

58.   Several people commented that, where self-regulation mechanisms applied, they had developed over a long period, sometimes hundreds of years. Often fishing was occurring at such a low rate that the stock was not seriously threatened and, in any case, the rate of change of fishing was slow. It cannot be concluded that we can expect this mechanism to always work, especially with modern technology, where even a conservation-minded person or group could damage “their” stock through ignorance of the effects of harvest or inability to act cooperatively. Also, fishing effort can build up to a seriously damaging level before even mild effects become apparent.

59.   Passive regulation occurs when, for one reason or another, fishermen turn from fishing to other activities. It may come into play for religious or cultural reasons. An example would include fishermen staying at home on religious holidays and cultural taboos against eating fish at certain times. It may also emerge when an individual or cohesive group gets property rights to a fishery.

60.   Passive regulation may guarantee the safety of the stock, often at the expense of under-utilization. The lack of modern technology in primitive fisheries generally means that usually only a fraction of the stock is exploited and, in many cases, fishing is only one of a range of alternative activities.

61.   It was emphasized that even artisanal fisheries using “primitive” gear can over-fish stocks, especially when the transition from subsistence to a market or barter economy is made. The existence of a market for fish, and outlets to a wider group of consumers may in fact be the triggering mechanism to improvements in efficiency, and hence may increase the possibility of over-exploitation.

62.   It was also noted that the group controlling access to fishery resources has had to exert tight internal control both on the activities of the members and to some extent on the size of the group. History has shown that these groups and their rights can be quite fragile. For example, one group may control itself, as well as the distance of other groups from its grounds, and this may lead to property rights ensuring adequate conservation. However, technological innovations (e.g., outboard engines, new types of gear) which give outsiders access to their grounds may destroy this system.

63.   Where individuals pursue more than one occupation, passive regulation is enhanced and maintenance of fishermen's incomes is made easier. This is in contrast to the view that full-time fishermen should be given precedence. Indeed it was pointed out that this occupational pluralism may alleviate the difficulties of bringing about a reduction of effort when exploitation is too high. This is not the case when full-time specialized “fishing castes” develop, which are often unable to diversify their activities in this situation. As such, pluralism in harvest activities probably has been an important safety valve in traditional fisheries.

64.   There was agreement that, generally speaking, “locals” have had more incentive to self-regulate a particular fishery than have nomadic roving fleets. However, it was stressed that even locals can over-exploit a stock if there is not adequate social control of the number of local participants.

65.   The second paper paid more attention to the interacting dynamics of fish stocks and fisheries. It stressed that, although equilibrium theory analysis (yield per recruit analysis, production modelling) may be appropriate as a first step in analysis of a fishery, instabilities in economic and environmental factors may destabilize fisheries in both the short and long term, in ways which cannot be accounted for in terms of equilibrium theory.

66.   Management should be planned and implemented taking this likelihood into account. It is often the case however that managers and participants take a short-term view. Thus they may miss some very important aspects of fisheries utilization, and may themselves contribute to later instabilities in the fishery.

67.   The existence of instability and periodic fluctuations in fisheries is not readily appreciated within fishery management because of the generally short time horizons of those involved, and the short historical data series generally available.

68.   One of the principal causes of cycles and irregularities in fisheries can be variable recruitment, which in turn reflects long or short term variations in biological production in the environment. However, oscillations may occur in otherwise stable systems, and in general are initiated by investment by a few enterprising fishermen, involving perception of new fishing techniques, new markets, and increases in abundance of traditional or new resources. The success of the innovators may lead to rapid increases in participation, and the paper presents the thesis that this process of “effort overshoot”, perception of it, and feedback of information allowing its subsequent slow correction by legislation, retirement and diversification of vessels and fishermen, may in itself be the cause of oscillatory behaviour in otherwise relatively stable systems. Discussion revealed several bodies of theory, both biological (e.g., predatory-prey theory) and economic, which could lead to such cyclic behaviour, and it was clear that the interventions by management subsequent to the initial investment phase would be less effective in correcting the effort imbalance than effective control of the rate of entry of new effort early on in the cycle.

69.   Considerable discussion centred on the economic aspects and causes of cycles. For one thing, fishermen themselves may show a “life cycle”, where they start as crew members, get a small boat, then a bigger boat, etc. Depending on the size of cohorts of fishermen passing through the system, this factor can lead to cycles in fisheries. Also, fishermen can “switch” from fishery to fishery depending upon the relative profit potential of harvesting different stocks and the ease with which they can re-equip their boats, although here the progressive sub-division of marine areas by EEZs, national closing zones and licence limitation is severely limiting this latter mechanism. In addition, there is a life cycle of boats, which can be affected by fishermen's perception of the stability of stocks; thus, if they perceive that the stock may decline after a few years, they will obtain relatively short lived, and hence less expensive gear. Therefore, they can move when the stock starts to go down. However, if they guess wrong, they may, depending on the versatility of their gear and skills, stay in the fishery causing a deeper decline in stocks.

70.   It may be useful to distinguish between naturally fluctuating or even “catastrophe-prone” stocks, and stocks that are normally stable. The paper distinguishes between four categories of fisheries: (1) stable - equilibrium models may be applied in management; (2) regularly fluctuating due to environmental periodicities - fisheries forecasting may then be possible; (3) fisheries may show irregular fluctuations; and (4) periodic growth and collapse of resources or their replacement by others may occur. In the latter two categories, it may be a useful strategy to manage using the low years as a base and then take advantage of joint ventures, foreign mobile fleets, etc. to pick up the excess in good years. In the latter case, appropriate control taking into account the political and equity considerations is necessary.

Regulation of effort by vessel licences/gear control, fishermen licensing

71.   A number of papers (3.2 to 3.8) were presented under this topic, bringing to the attention of the participants the experience of countries or regions advanced in the use of such tools for effort regulation: Alaska, Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan, Malaysia, Norway and the USA. The experiences reported were varied. In some cases there had been difficulties in implementing the measures, and they had not been fully successful in achieving the policy objectives. In a number of other cases the measures appeared to have been successful, and were considered as such by the fishermen.

72.   The following discussions considered the appropriateness of limited licensing systems in reaching some of the basic goals of fishery management such as: conservation of the resource, economic efficiency, equity and administrative-political feasibility.

Conservation of the resource

73.   The most frustrating problem of fishery management is the tendency of fishing effort to increase with time up to a point where the existence of the stock and of a viable fishery is threatened. Simple quota policies have generally not succeeded in reducing effort in over-developed fisheries. This often results in shorter and shorter fishing seasons, upsetting the marketing sector in many cases. As a consequence it would seem that better tools are needed in order to control the level of effort and licensing is one of them.

74.   It was felt that excess fishing capacity may weaken the capability of other fishery management measures (like mesh size, area closures or closed seasons) to protect the viability of certain fisheries by reducing vessel profitability to a point where illegal fishing was the only alternative for survival. Also, excessive capacity creates political pressure to increase TACs or readjust allocations. When capacity is too large in several countries, this can both create additional pressure to enlarge the TAC and hinder international negotiation on allocation of the TAC among nations.

75.   A key question was whether, in the absence of a limited entry scheme, a self-regulating (bio-economic) mechanism might exist to stop increases in fishing effort at some level before any serious damage to the biological system; with declining catch rates fishermen would voluntarily leave the fishery. The Consultation pointed out that this will not occur if the fishery remains profitable at very low abundance levels (high priced/low cost species), if abundance declines more rapidly than catch rates (as occurs in most of the small pelagic resources, for instance), or if the fishermen have too few alternative fishing opportunities.

76.   The dynamic adjustment processes in fisheries were discussed at length. A strongly held view was that licence limitation should be established when a fishery was growing, whether this was because a stock had previously been lightly fished or because improving environmental conditions were increasing the size of the stock. However, for most developed fisheries, this is a forlorn hope.

77.   It was also noted that licence limitation has often been introduced in the past when a stock was on the decline most probably under the combined effect of fishing effort and natural/environmental changes. In these cases, licence limitation is politically easier to propose and introduce, but positive results (restoring stocks) will be very difficult to obtain.

78.   The Consultation concluded that licensing was a technique that could have positive effects on the conservation of the resource as far as it could actually maintain the fishing mortality below some predetermined levels. It was generally necessary to combine licensing with other regulations in order to achieve this objective.

79.   The Consultation believed that a particularly difficult problem is the management of a multi-species demersal resource. Using limited entry, some species would tend to be over-harvested while other species would be under-harvested. However, this is a problem with any method of managing multispecies harvests and limited entry may be the best way to deal with a difficult issue.

80.   It was pointed out that the conditions under which licences were granted provided a valuable and flexible tool for managers. In particular, provision of adequate data (e.g., records of what fish were caught, where, and with how much fishing) could usefully be a condition of holding a licence.

Economic efficiency

81.   It was generally agreed that licensing alone was not sufficient to enhance economic “gains” by decreasing the excessive fishing capacity. Average fishing power per vessel tends to increase through introduction of new technology and other investments in each vessel since the incentive for higher investment still exists in the search for larger shares of the potential capture of the group of licensed fishing units. The result is generally an increase of the boats' fishing efficiency, a shortening of the fishing season, and consequent market and employment disruption ashore.

82.   In order to improve the efficiency, the regulation scheme should therefore comprise a package of complementary measures aimed at avoiding this tendency toward capital accummulation. In that respect monetary measures (raising licence fees, taxes, etc.) can be useful tools in reducing incentives for over-investment (cf. paragraph on Monetary Measures).

83.   The principal parts of the discussion relating to economic well-being involved the question of stabilizing income over a period of time by mitigating the effects of fluctuations caused by variation in fish abundance, prices and cost. In some cases an emergency fund filled in years of above average catch are used to compensate low incomes in meagre years. Representatives from several countries described such income stabilization programmes for fishermen.

84.   Licence limitation programmes have often improved fishermen's earnings, but have less often led to large collections of tax revenues. No consensus emerged from the discussion as to the appropriate level of licence fee, some arguing for high fees to recapture management costs and create appropriate emergency development funds and others to low fees, in consideration of the low income level and political vulnerability of certain fishing groups.

85.   Despite the shortcomings there was a feeling that some of the obvious benefits of limited entry were preventative; the situation would have been worse if they had not been introduced.

86.   It was finally noted that increases in per-vessel capacity may be at least offset by a scrapping programme or a buy-back policy (whose cost could possibly be supported by the fund fueled by licence fees). The buy-back can also be undertaken by the fishermen themselves.


87.   Equity considerations are amongst the most elusive of fishery management. They are based on particular objectives which are generally not found elsewhere. Instead of looking for restrictions on hours of labour, wages, working conditions, they aim at ensuring protection of small-scale fishermen against adverse effects of industrial fishing, of particular minority ethnic groups, etc. The main questions are: When licences are limited who gains? Who loses? Are the changes fair and reasonable?

88.   An important question is: Who should be in the scheme? Considering that open access would automatically lead to excess capacity under most conditions, three possible rules of qualification for licences were discussed:

89.   Participants with significant experience in countries possessing artisanal fisheries argued strongly that licensing systems should be used carefully, if at all, when they adversely affect national goals for protecting the well-being of artisanal fishermen. Examples were given of special treatment of aboriginal fishermen in the USA and Canada and artisanal fishermen in Japan.

90.   It was also suggested that full-time fishermen are frequently singled out for particular treatment. Such special consideration was however dependant on circumstances, and generalizations were not reached.

91.   Some speakers suggested that initial qualification rules as well as rules for later entry would be more equitable if they were developed in close collaboration with fishermen, their associated industry and community and others responsible for the fishing communities.

92.   In addition to consultation when the programme is designed, Appeal Committees are often constituted to resolve disputes arising from programme implementation. Some participants felt that these committees would be more effective if they were to include fishermen either on the committee or in a close advisory capacity. Other participants reported that direct involvement of fishermen has had very negative effects. In order to avoid too frequent appeals, administrators have often chosen to err on the side of liberality leading sometimes to an undue increase in the number of licences initially distributed.

93.   It was pointed out that it was also necessary to decide whether licences were to be transferable and whether they were issued to the vessels or to the fishermen. Licences might be non-transferable, transferable only to fishermen or to fishermen from specific groups or family, or transferable to any purchaser on a free market.

Political and administrative feasibility

94.   Concern was expressed that licence limitation would be followed by increasingly complex regulations. Others noted that licence limitation is a tool most often adopted in a fishery which was already in trouble; the number of regulations may simply reflect a problem which cannot be left alone and which may be difficult no matter what approach is taken. It was however agreed that, whenever feasible, it was preferable and easier to start a limited licensing system as soon as possible and possibly before the situation becomes really critical.

95.   In countries with much experience in licensing, the limitation system has evolved slowly with time through trial and error. Some countries wishing to adopt licensing schemes today might be expecting optimal solutions to emerge too rapidly.

96.   It was noted that a moratorium was generally a measure taken rapidly in case of crisis, and on a temporary basis, to freeze effort levels while preparing a more complete (and longer term) limited licensing programme. Licences were also a useful tool for short-term management (to open or suspend fishing operations at short notice).

97.   It was noted that, as usual, fishermen would accept effort restrictions more readily if they were convinced (and could effectively ensure) that other participants to the fishery were being equally treated. The responsibility for this aspect will generally be left with the administration which will have to develop an adequate programme of monitoring and data collection.

98.   In developing countries a serious problem was encountered in the lack of effective enforcement and the use of licensing as more of a revenue collection mechanism than as a means for conserving the resources.


99.   Limited licensing of fishermen, vessels, gears, etc. was generally considered by all participants as a potential management tool to be carefully considered. Its adoption must be considered in the context of the economic and social system of the relevant country and region.

100.   This tool must be complemented by other regulations to limit some unwanted potential effects. Before designing the scheme, the objectives for management should be specified as far as possible and, when using a new policy, a careful programme of monitoring should be undertaken; problems should be anticipated and corrections be made timely to ensure the suitability of the results for the fishery concerned.

101.   It was also felt that limited licensing could be a useful complementary tool to TAC/quota policy in order to ensure some required allocation at the national level.

102.   At the meeting the only experience presented with respect to licence limitation for artisanal fisheries related to aboriginal populations of North America. While that experience was reported to be relatively successful, some participants felt that licensing systems might not be applicable to coastal fisheries in developing countries, rather they emphasized satisfactory results from using property rights systems in artisanal fisheries while licensing industrial fisheries. Other participants believed that licence control may have value in all fisheries even in developing countries.

Regulation of fishing effort through monetary measures

103.   The meeting considered the general features of these controls, as presented in the review paper. Emphasis was given to the positive aspects of financial measures with particular reference that such measures must be severe enough to negatively affect what the fishermen intend to do. Examples cited were the Icelandic system of taxing preferred species and subsidizing under-utilized species as well as the Bardawil lagoon system where taxes paid by fishermen were used to maintain the environment at its productive level.

104.   Questions were asked to clarify the tax/subsidy scheme for Iceland and it was explained that this approach was made possible because of fixed prices for species established for the season. In effect, therefore, the price of cod was set below market price and the price for redfish above market price. It was pointed out that this system would be difficult to implement if fishermen had to compete with imports of the same fish, or different fishermen fished the species separately.

105.   The paper describing monetary measures was introduced with the emphasis of describing the difference between economic theory and the actual practices found in fisheries. It was stressed that the paramount objective in many fisheries is in practice not the mazimization of economic surplus, rather the economic viability of relatively remote areas.

106.   Attention was given in this paper to the impact of subsidies intended to increase employment opportunities and improvements in income levels. Higher incomes and embodiment of technological innovations led to greater over-capacity. When over-capacity was reached, it was not then possible to remove subsidies because the economic condition in the fishery had declined and, in fact, the need for subsidies increased.

107.   In addition, it was pointed out that with the extension of 200-mile limits, many governments are less interested in imposing taxes than in subsidizing capital as a means to stimulate investment for further development of fisheries. Such an approach has directly frustrated fishery management.

108.   Attention was directed to the effect of subsidies in one country where increases in fishing effort were attributable to subsidies and which resulted in increased levels of harvest. Each stock soon became fully utilized and has now resulted in a lack of competitiveness which would not have occurred without subsidies. Management had then to respond by imposing regulatory measures.

109.   The conclusions of the paper were:

  1. Licence fees must be maintained to restrict investment and over-capacity.

  2. Taxes on fishing are in many cases not necessary since it would be sufficient to withdraw subsidies to reduce fishing effort.

  3. Economic support may be necessary to stimulate the industry but this should be directed to infrastructure and not to direct the fish harvesting sector to carry the burdens of a society's problems.

110.   In his summary the author indicated how subsidies moved from a positive stimulus to a negative one as full exploitation of the resources was reached and over-capacity commenced.

111.   Taxes were reviewed and it was noted that, in most cases, these were not proportional to fishing effort. In particular, in some countries, the mechanism for tax changes is too slow to be effective as a means to alter fishing effort from year to year when stock size varies, e.g., due to the occurrence of good or bad recruitment. But licence fees capable of recouping some of the management costs, plus landing fees based on gross weight at the processing plant, have both monetary and statistical value.

112.   There was considerable discussion of the role of financial support programmes. There were some strong feelings that such programmes could lead to major problems, and should only be introduced after careful thought. Many subsidies have so distorted fisheries that it is very difficult to understand the true economic situation. For example, fuel subsidies to fishing vessels could tend to help large fuel-hungry mobile fleets at the expense of local fleets, often in remote areas, but close to the resource.

113.   Financial support is introduced for various reasons. Examples of reasons are the stimulation of development of fishing on an under-utilized resource, and resolution of problems in a developed fishery due to over-capacity arising from such temporary crises as market failure and recruitment failure. These reasons are sound and often lead to wise investments by the nation or international bodies.

114.   The Consultation felt that there were often good cases, especially in developing countries, for the first type, to stimulate growth. However, even here there are dangers in that, once granted, subsidies are difficult to stop. They can therefore continue after the fishery develops, and lead to problems of over-capacity. Some forms of subsidy (e.g., low interest loans) may be easier to discontinue than others.

115.   There was felt to be less justification for the second class of financial support, unless they could be made strictly temporary, e.g., for a few months after a severe storm. However, it was noted that in some multi-national fisheries temporary subsidies had been adopted by individual countries to maintain their fisheries in existence pending the introduction of a national management scheme.

116.   A common problem with financial support programmes is that they are often indiscriminate. Subsidized vessels constructed for under-exploited species will often, in the absence of other controls, engage in fishing for over-exploited fisheries. There are often political difficulties in making subsidies selective in favour, for example, of fishermen in remote areas. At the same time, some types of subsidies could be used to correct some of the distortions in the existing economic system, e.g., by providing loans to small-scale fishermen without ready access to normal credit facilities.

117.   The Consultation noted the financial pressures that could lead to problems in the fisheries of developing countries. In these countries bilateral assistance agencies, international development banks and other agencies are providing funds to help develop fisheries. In principle, this assistance should be highly welcome, and very often it has been properly applied and has proved successful. However, there have been occasions when the results have been the importation of inappropriate methods of fishing, and the growth of severe over-capacity. This can occur because some of the interests of the agencies may in part be concerned with the over-capacity of fishing vessels or shipyards in the donor country, or with implementing a large-scale loan without considering whether a smaller loan (e.g., for 20 trawlers rather than 400) might be better.

118.   The Consultation felt that some of these problems arise because of the inadequate links, within national governments and international agencies, between those concerned with “development” (building more boats), and “management” (e.g., reducing over-capacity).

Regulation of effort through property rights

119.   Papers in this session outlined the system used for allocating rights to artisanal fisheries in Japan, individual quota programmes in Atlantic Canada for herring and groundfish and discussion at a recent technical consultation on Territorial Use Rights in Fisheries (TURFs). A brief summary was also given of consideration in Alaska of an individual fisherman's shares approach to allocation of a quota for Pacific halibut. Finally, success was reported with a quota-shares system in the Lake Superior chub fishery in the United States.

120.   A general conclusion of these papers, and of earlier discussions during the Consultation was that if fishermen could be given enough degree of property right in the fisheries, when they felt them to be “over-fished”, they would be more responsive to management. Indeed, they might propose measures that were more restrictive than those put forward by administrators. There were, however, practical limits (e.g., the degree of mobility of the resource) and political and legal obstacles to the widespread or immediate adoption of this approach.

121.   In Canada the property rights approach held considerable promise but, being introduced late in the east coast fishery's history, it faced enormous problems caused by the multitude of fleet types and multi-species fisheries. The concept was one that fishermen took time to get accustomed to and was difficult to be accepted by fishermen whose groups were divided among themselves by different gear types and vessel sizes, all competing for the same resource. Even companies had problems in taking full advantage of fish property rights for their vessels. However, the conclusion is that the fisheries in this region are over-regulated and that the property rights approach holds promise for deregulating these fisheries.

122.   It was noted that property rights might be an unfamiliar concept in fisheries, but that they had been used for centuries in some places (e.g., Japan and Sri Lanka). On land they are, of course, widely accepted as contributing to efficient use of the land.

123.   Property rights can take many forms. These include allocation of fish (e.g., a share in the TAC), territory or fishing licences. Rights can be granted to individuals, or to communities. The former is a form of limited entry, but a community owning fish ‘property’ would probably have to consider additional controls (e.g., on the number of vessels).

124.   Some concern was expressed that property rights, as a means of managing fisheries, is unfair and not egalitarian, since it favours those securing such rights whilst denying opportunities to those who cannot secure them. While ownership of rights does have distributional implications, such should not be seen as unusual, since property rights are a fundamental aspect of access to resources in terrestrial enterprise. It was, however, emphasized that those enjoying such benefits should pay for them in the form of royalties (or other arrangements) to cover the costs of research and administration involved.

125.   The Consultation noted that territorial use rights in fisheries (TURFs) had worked well for centuries in various locales, especially in coastal and inshore regions. Where conditions (e.g., the lack of mobility of the resource) allow, a TURF can be a good strategy for management if it provides an equitable distribution of benefits, provides conservation, and provides revenues for the government sufficient to pay the costs of management. A TURF may also provide an incentive to participants to make investments in their fisheries, and induce governments to help under-write or finance the same. TURF schemes should be flexible, allowing means to sell or transfer shares, merge with adjacent TURFs, etc. Vigilence is necessary to guard against deterioration of TURFs-situations in which ownership goes into fewer and fewer hands, to monopolize, etc. The essence of a TURF system is community, rather than individual ownership. It was noted that in coastal areas there could be conflict between property rights in fisheries, and the interests of other users of the coastal waters.

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