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2.1 The role of criteria

The design of any fishery management programme is greatly aided by a clear understanding of the goals for that programme. In some countries these goals are clearly spelled out in advance as well as the criteria by which management alternatives will be judged. In other countries, while each person involved in the discussions may have individual perceptions of underlying goals, public discussion is related only to the strategies used to approach the various goals. Whether objectives are explicitly stated or implicit in policy discussions, they are often large in number, diverse, conflicting, and require consideration of trade-offs. The precise objectives to be used in a management discussion will vary from place to place and over time, and will shift as external circumstances change. Nonetheless, five broadly defined criteria are often identified: conservation, economic performance, social values (especially equity), administrative feasibility, and political acceptability. Since this document discusses regulation of fishing mortality, with respect to those criteria, each will be briefly discussed.

2.2  Conservation

The most commonly recognized reason for the regulation of fishing effort is the need for conservation of fish stocks. Indeed this was one of the main reasons for the call for a thorough re-examination of the Law of the Sea (LOS) a decade or so ago.

The basic criterion for conservation of a stock is that it should be able to provide a sustainable yield. Stocks when they have been reduced substantially have a tendency to produce failures in recruitment which, for a time, reduce their ability to produce a sustainable yield. Although well recognized, this presents a significant problem, as recruitment in many stocks is highly variable and the level of reduction in stock size, at which declines in recruitment may be expected, cannot readily be ascertained.

This problem is exacerbated because data accumulate typically on a very slow time scale and the techniques for analysing stocks such as Virtual Population Analysis (VPA) are unable to predict successfully into the future (Gulland, 1977; Pope, 1979; Pope and Shepherd, 1982).

Often data on recruitment and stock size obtained by VPA do not show a sufficient degree of evidence to justify reduction in the amount of fishing until the process is well advanced. Accordingly there has been a tendency for exploitation to continue until the stock is severely depleted and a major reduction, or a complete closure of the fishery has to be introduced. Typical examples of such fisheries abound: the North Sea herring, the Atlanto-Scandian herring, the anchoveta, the Californian sardine, etc. The history of many such fisheries is reviewed by Saetersdal (1980).

In situations where recruitment has shown a major decline, insufficient is known about the processes involved for scientists to be able to predict the recovery rate when fishing is reduced or stopped. Some species appear to remain at low levels for long periods in the absence of exploitation. Well known examples are the Californian sardine (MacCall, 1980), the herring of the Georges Bank (Anthony and Waring, 1980), and the sardine off Japan (Kondo, 1980). A typical case in point is the herring of the North Sea (ICES, 1982). The recovery of fish stocks in the North Atlantic following the 1914-18 and 1939-45 wars is often cited as a major predictable recovery of fish stocks. However, this recovery was mainly from a situation of growth over-fishing not of recruitment failure.

Where a species remains at a low level following over-exploitation, correlated changes in the abundance of other species often occur. Most notable are the inter-correlated oscillations in abundance of the anchovy, sardine and scomber systems off Peru and Chile, California and South-West Africa. Ecological theory would predict such replacements by similar species, but the nature of fisheries' data precludes a quantification of such phenomena. Daan (1980) provides a review of the main examples and argues that ‘replacement’ is seldom exact or simple.

While the replacement species could turn out to have higher unit value, there is no way of predicting exactly which species if any will benefit from the reduction of a target species. Hence, in general, there is a tendency to view all recruitment collapses as phenomena to be avoided. Indeed even where recovery occurs following a cessation or reduction in fishing, the economic disruption to both the fishing industry and the marketing sectors dependent on it can be severe (MacSween, 1984).

A further complication caused by changes in the community structure and fishing pattern has been considered theoretically (May et al., 1979; Andersen and Ursin, 1977). This occurs when fishing is first concentrated on a predator species, then, as the predators are reduced, shifts attention to an increased prey. Sustainable yields of the predators are thus threatened both from potential recruitment collapse and from a reduction in their food supply.

Such considerations have played an important role in the framing of legislation where marine mammals are important as higher predators. The articles of the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) explicitly tie the rate of exploitation of the main prey species, the krill, to the ability of the predators to feed adequately on the krill resource. Such considerations are also recognized in the management of the Californian anchovy population, where the management plan sets aside a specific “forage reserve” for predator consumption (McInnis, 1984).

In tropical multi-species trawl fisheries, a different problem arises. Here, there is a necessity for regulating the total fishing effort applied to the community, in order that changes in species composition do not occur which are either irreversible or economically detrimental.

In Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia there has been a tendency for an increase in the proportion of trash fish to occur as the fishery progresses. In effect the fishery is producing a relatively constant yield from the community, but the underlying species composition of the community is altering with a tendency towards smaller, and generally less valuable specimens.

Although relatively little is known about the dynamic interactions of these fish communities (see Pauly, 1981), there is a possibility for altering the pattern of fishing mortality imposed, in order that the sort of species changes that have been observed do not occur, or occur to a lesser extent.

In part this tendency comes from the phenomena that occur in all exploited fish stocks where the age composition of the catch moves towards younger fish as fishing progresses. However, in these tropical systems this tendency is also accompanied by a move towards more abundant small species. Such species typically have high rates of mortality and recruitment and are capable of replacing slower growing, but initially more abundant species. A variety of interpretations along these simple ecological lines have been proposed (e.g., Gulland, 1977; Pauly, 1979a; Caddy, 1984a). Such explanations are little more than metaphors, but do highlight the problems of such fisheries.

There is a need in these communities to consider what the appropriate goal is for a fishery of this sort. This could be framed in biological terms; for example, a maximum sustainable yield of fish greater than a certain size. This might well also produce a high economic yield; however, there are complications, e.g., shrimp are small and of high value.

Clearly, there are a number of inter-related problems in establishing conservation criteria for stocks or communities. Most appear to depend on the ability of the resource to continue to provide yields. Where regulations fail to restrict fishing, so that this ability is reduced for a substantial period of time, they can be thought to have failed. In effect this implies that the biological criteria for conservation can be encapsulated in the simple idea that changes in the community or target species abundance should be reversible on some reasonable time scale. Interestingly, wording of this sort is already part of the CCALMR text.

2.3  Economic performance

When fisheries are unregulated, the approach to the bio-economic equilibrium is accompanied by increasing economic inefficiency. As a fishery develops there may be an initial tendency for costs to decline as improved knowledge about the location of the more abundant resources improves efficiency. However, as more fishing effort is attracted into the fishery and the stocks are reduced, costs tend to rise and revenues per unit effort tend to decline. Such changes tend to occur as the best or nearest fishing grounds are over-exploited and less attractive areas have to be fished.

The bio-economic equilibrium is reached in theory when the lack of profits discourages further entry. Often in practice a variety of factors, including a lack of information about the consequences of entry, result in average costs actually exceeding average revenues. The effect on income levels in such fisheries is correspondingly severe. In many cases, where particular skills are acquired by the fishermen and vessels are of a special type, withdrawal from the fishery is difficult. Accordingly, there is a tendency for heavily-exploited open-access fisheries to have a fishing fleet composed of relatively old vessels crewed by older fishermen.

While the initial motivation for implementation of fishery regulations may be conservation, often an important motive is concerned with the low incomes prevalent in the fishery. A major set of criteria for fishery regulation is therefore concerned with improving the economic performance of the fishery. Clearly this can be done by increasing the average economic return either by increasing average revenues or by lowering average costs.

Generating the maximum economic return from fisheries is rarely the main objective in fishery management (Bain, 1984). However, careful attention to both the costs and benefits due to regulation is required if fisheries are to be a source of value, and not a burden, to a country. This is true, both in terms of the impact on profits and losses in the fishing industry and in terms of public revenues generated and public costs caused by regulation due to increased data collection, research, administration and enforcement.

A related issue of great concern in many countries is whether changes in fishery regulations lead to an increase in foreign exchange (perhaps by enhancing the export of fish products) or are a drain on such funds.

Politicians and public administrators seldom refer to the concept of economic efficiency. Instead they express concern for high rates of unemployment, bankruptcies, and stagnant or declining income levels. Such economic consequences often result from increasing costs such as fuel prices and interest rates, slack demand for fish products as well as declining fish availability. Since fishermen enter a fishery much more readily when prices are rising or the fish resource is increasingly plentiful, than they leave the fishery when conditions deteriorate, policies may be favoured which reduce the variability, in the amount of fish harvested. In addition, spokesman for the fishing industry stress the need for an even and predictable supply of fish to maintain ports, cold storage and freezing operations, transportation facilities, and processing and distribution activities as well as minimum numbers of individuals in various gear groups (MacSween, 1984).

To secure the best economic value from any level of fish harvested, emphasis must be placed on the quality of fish as they are caught or as they reach the consumer. Thus regulations should be set to encourage catch at the time of year when quality reaches an acceptable standard and to move that catch into processing and marketing channels in ways which will maintain quality.

Marketing considerations also require attention to acceptable sizes of fish. Usually this means landing fish at sizes such that processing is economical, as when a minimum size is needed to produce good fillets. However,it can also mean permitting harvest at several sizes to fill various market niches. Just as cattle satisfy demands for both veal and beef, so do some consumers of fish have varying preferences. An extreme example is when harvest of herring for its roe content yields a food fish with little appeal, while harvest for best food use would leave the roe market unsatisfied.

2.4  Social values

Where movement toward open-access equilibrium reduces the average profitability of a fishery, some fishermen are affected more than others. Indeed, some fishermen may be so adaptable to the new circumstances that they earn good profits in spite of the overall poor state of the industry.In certain cases, faced with impending bankruptcy, attempts may be made to increase catches by operating for longer hours or in previously unfished areas. All such effects will tend to reduce further the fish resource, with a corresponding impact on the rest of the fleet.

Such effects can lead to illwill and, at times, violence by some fishermen toward other fishermen. Many fishery regulations which originate from fishermen themselves are often designed to reduce social turmoil among a group of fishermen or between groups of fishermen.

The most difficult task for fishery managers is to choose among alternative regulations which make one group of fishermen better off and another group worse off. When one of the groups is considered to be “our fishermen” and the other group to be “their fishermen”, the choice is fairly predictable.

However, there are many difficult choices when one group is explicitly to be favoured. Quite often, preferred treatment can only be inferred from actions taken since it is not good politics to openly state favouritism. Some of the cases in which explicit preferences have been shown are as follows. In some fisheries, full-time fishermen are treated specially relative to part-timers. Fishermen harvesting for their personal food use have a higher priority than commercial fishermen with both groups given an advantage relative to recreational fishermen (this order being slightly different in some countries). The status of near-shore fishermen relative to distant-water fishermen is a difficult issue in many nations. Preference by vessel size is common and is associated with difficult choices between artisanal fishermen and industrial fleets. Fishermen operating on their own vessels sometimes are given an advantage over fishermen operating on vessels owned by corporations (perhaps processing firms). Treatment is also different for fishermen relying on one or a few fisheries and highly diversified operators; preference is at times given according to the fishermen's homeport or residence and various ethnic groups are treated differently.

Even when one group is given a higher status in the eyes of the government than another group, there is still the question of how much to favour that group. If you place the interest of the artisanal fisherman ahead of the industrial fleet, must you completely satisfy the artisanal group before providing any opportunity to the industrial sector?

Most public policies will implicitly give some advantage to one group over another. For example, a decision to support the development of fisheries may work against artisanal fishermen. A failure to identify such implications may lead to equity consequences which the management authority may greatly regret.

Whether some groups are treated with special consideration or all groups have equal standing, management decisions must withstand scrutiny with respect to concepts of fair and equitable treatment of various fishermen. However, equity is a most difficult concept subject to diverse interpretations. For example, an equitable share of the catch may refer to one given year or an average over a series of years. Equity might also refer to distribution of income, access conditions (perhaps with respect to season, gear restrictions, or area) or the government processes leading to consideration of alternatives. The problem of which concept of equity to actually use may be most difficult in practice. For example, recreational fishermen may complain about the unfair share of a particular species caught by commercial fishermen, while the commercial fishermen complain about the unfairness of recreational fishermen having a longer season.

While equity is an extremely important social consideration to be used in assessing fishery regulations, it is not the only one. For example, fishermen often complain that their individual occupational objectives are inadequately considered when regulations are set. Many fishermen chose their way of life because they wished to be independent while living an outdoor life full of challenge, with a lack of regimentation, full of a sense of identity, and proud of their occupation (Thomson, 1984). Further, many of them argue that their heritage does not allow any other self-image. They also want a great deal of flexibility in choosing target species, size and type of vessel to operate, gear to use, what time of year (week, day, and time of day) to fish, and the area in which they will fish. Such flexibility implies to them both ease of entry and exit from a specific fishery.

While the social values just described may imply minimal government, involvement, other concerns suggest some kind of intervention. As the number of fishermen operating in a given fishery increases, greater attention is needed to provide for orderly fishing and reduction in user group conflicts. The public may be concerned with the unemployment rate among fishermen or in particular fishing communities. There may also be concern about the dislocation of particular social groups which might occur if fish stocks available to a remote fishing community were depleted or pre-empted by a distant-water fishing group.

2.5  Administrative feasibility, enforcement and costs

Clearly regulations need to be administratively feasible, in the sense that their operation involves suitable choices of timing, monitoring and control. However, the most important additional criteria by which regulations may be judged concern the cost and feasibility of their enforcement. There are two main areas of concern.

The first involves the extent that it is necessary to monitor the activity of the fishery. Different regulations demand different types and degrees of monitoring and data collection. The second concerns the fishermen's understanding of the regulation and their attitude to it. If regulations are complex, difficult to understand and are perceived by the fishermen to be against their interests, then enforcement will be costly.

2.6  Political acceptability

Perhaps the most important question to be addressed by any government before adopting or significantly expanding the use of a current regulatory approach is “Can we afford it?” The costs involved are not just the purely financial considerations, already discussed, but also include the erosion of a limited political base. Expanding public regulations can lead to criticism and a decrease in political power. However, so can a failure to take action in the face of declining catches or conflicts between different groups of fishermen.

Recognition of political costs is one of several factors which cause most governments to adopt incremental approaches to resource management. Unless a strong mandate is found to justify radical approaches, regulations are commonly adopted which are modest changes in previous fishery regulations or, at a minimum, are clearly analogous to resource regulations used elsewhere in the country. For example, a country which imposes closures on some fish stocks can place a time closure on a previously unregulated fishery with less political criticism than a country which has never used seasonal closure to manage any fish or wildlife resource.

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