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Fishery Management in Europe

Are ITQs really a Panacea ?

Chandrika SHARMA

01 / 1998

In 2002, there will be a review of the Common Fisheries Policy of the EU. The extent of this review and its legal standing is currently being much debated. It is doubtful whether the EU intends to radically change its management systems. Rather, the indications are that it merely intends to `fine-tune’ current systems of quota allocations by the introduction of a market mechanism.

Aided by clichés that abound in the mass media, it appears that there is a great danger of being swept along by an uncritical tide of belief that the salvation of fish stocks rests in allocating individual fishers, tradable quotas or Individual Transferable Quotas (ITQs). It is believed that ITQs are the salvation of the fish stocks because they will: generate a more economically efficient fishing industry; rationalise production without intervention from public funds; create the conditions for sustainable commercial fisheries; ensure a more easily manageable sector;

and result in lower enforcement costs.

There are fishery managers who view ITQs as a means of engineering changes which will make fisheries easier to manage and at minimum cost to public funds; a fishery with fewer ownership units and geographically more centralised in larger ports.

It is very difficult for biological scientists, who have been prevalent in fisheries management for long, to concede that their science is too imprecise to enable a numerical approach, such as quotas, to be successful. A dangerous assumption underlying ITQs is that TACs (total allowable catches)are proven mechanisms and that ITQs attempt the fine-tuning of a basically sound concept. Some people ask: why spend so much energy on stipulating what numerically should or may be extracted when we will never know, with any degree of certainty, what is

there in the first place? Not just what is there, but also what processes other than fishing are taking their share of the catch.

It is possible that the numerical systems’ objective is not conservation, as claimed, but rather, to serve multinational firms which need to work in certainties to provide for the increasingly lucrative international market in quality fish products.

A recent draft report on the Common Fisheries Policy after 2002, by the Fisheries Committee of the European Parliament, calls for member state TACs to be assigned to individual fishermen and for measures to "guarantee the proper operation of the market in fishing rights."

The apparent purpose of this proposal is to break away from the system of national quotas, which is perceived as running counter to the introduction of a single market in the fisheries sector. Its intention is to allocate quotas to individual fishermen and to then encourage trade in quotas, thus leaving the market to dictate the restructuring of the fishing fleet. This shows just how strongly the tide of belief in TACs and ITQs has swept over Europe.

This despite recent evidence indicating the negative consequences of the introduction of ITQs in countries such as Iceland. Recent Icelandic experience reveals that from 1984, when ITQs were introduced, until the end of 1993, the fleet has actually increased by nine per cent gross registered tonnage (GRT)and by 17 per cent horsepower. Trawlers over 500 GRT have doubled in aggregate tonnage and small coastal vessels have increased by 57 per cent in tonnage.

The large companies, which held 25.5 per cent of ITQs in 1991, increased their share to 47.2 per cent by 1994. There has been a very clear geographical centralisation of the industry and a marginalisation of the small fishing communities.

According to the study, "Along with a loss of local control over units of production and a decline of the land-based processing industry, people in these communities are losing their future rights to harvest the fish resources. The fishermen-owned inshore fleet with owned quota is shrinking and, due to quota shortage, many inshore vessels are now dependent on quota leasing arrangements with the larger companies."


pesca, gestão de recursos naturais

, Europa


With the ills of the ITQ system becoming evident, more attention should now be devoted to learning from traditional fisher communities who, rather than focusing on the numbers to be extracted, concentrated their efforts on maintaining an equilibrium in the marine environment. It is possible that controlling who fishes what, where, when and how might prove to be more culturally and ecologically sound. Increasingly attention is now being

focused on community management and co-management regimes, prompted by the perceived failures of modern fisheries management systems. These represent attempts at understanding, more fully, the nature of the fisheries and how, in the past, users and use of the resource have been managed.

In the context of EU and many other fisheries, greater debate is urgently required on the merits and demerits of the current numerical system of fisheries management-whom does it well-serve, and whom does it ill-serve? Such a debate is required before, rather than after, any further fine-tuning.


Artigos e dossiês

McGINLEY, Joan, Are ITQs really a panacea? in. Samudra Report, 1997/07, 18

ICSF (International Collective in Support of Fishworkers) - 27 College Road, Chennai 600006, INDIA - Tel. (91) 44-2827 5303 - Fax (91) 44-2825 4457 - Índia - - icsf (@)

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