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Fisheries and conservation

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Conflict Stories

Story 1: A long road to a Fisheries Restricted Area: The Jabuka Pomo Pit (Italy – Croatia – Slovenia)
For many years, national and supranational authorities, research institutes and NGOs have attempted to protect a valuable marine habitat in the Central Adriatic named Jabuka/Pomo Pit. Strong opposition from fishing associations and continuous fishing regardless of spatial management measures were major causes of conflict.

Story 2: Negative interactions between dolphins and fishing in Corsica (France)
Bottlenose dolphins like interface zones between two marine environments, which are zones with greater diversity and abundance of fish. This puts them into direct competition with fishers, especially in Corsica where the coastal strip is particularly narrow.

Story 3: Trawling in the Koster-Väderö fjord (Sweden)
The Koster-Väderö fjord  is home to Sweden’s highest diversity of marine life: between 5,000-6,000 species are thought to be found there, including 200 animal species and nine algae species unique to the area.

Story 4: What options for regulating fishing activities? (Germany)
The Adlergrund area in the German Baltic Sea is a designated Natura 2000 area (SAC, SPA). The main nature conservation values are wintering sea ducks; harbour porpoise and seals also occur in the area. Both birds and dolphins are implicated by gill net fishery.

Conflicting elements

From the perspective of commercial fisheries, the main source of conflict tends to be spatial exclusion, such as the imposition of no-take zones or areas with limited access to fishery. From the perspective of area-based marine conservation, the need to conserve fish stocks in line with MSFD objectives and fishing practices outside MPAs can be a conflicting element.

  • Spatial exclusion. Spatial measures (e.g. no-take zones in Marine Protected Areas) proposed by the authorities can be a strong source of conflict. Fishers often object to such proposals, given that they might imply relocating to less productive fishing grounds, further from the fishing port, or changes of fishing gear, all implying additional costs. In EU Member States with small sea spaces spatial measures may imply the total loss of fishing areas rather than merely relocation.  
  • Destructive fishing practices, including bycatch and litter. Most fishing practices, such as some techniques of bottom trawling which harvest the target fishing resources, have impact on non-target species and therefore on the broader ecosystem. Litter produced by fishing practices can also have considerable impacts, especially in the case of lost gear, leading to ghost fishing.

Positive effects of sound conservation for the fish stocks and the fisheries sector can be evident in cases where appropriate management tools, technical measures, and fishing capacity control are implemented. There is evidence that fish stock recovery areas or no-take areas can aid the recovery of commercially important species. Benefit to nearby fisheries through spill-over and export of offspring from protected stock has also been recorded. No-take areas can also help set positive management precedents.

Given that fishing often takes place across the exclusive economic zones of several states, conflicts can also take place across several states. Although fisheries management is harmonized across the EU according to CFP rules, different countries still take individual approaches, which can make coordination difficult. There may be location-specific rules as to who may fish or how, when or where. Rights of access may be granted based on historical connections to fishing grounds, but other social and environmental considerations including spatial prerequisites usually also come into play.

Drivers of conflict

Within the EU, the conservation measures put into place are expected to result in stock rebuilding and increasing profitability of fisheries in the long term. Nevertheless, economic pressure on fishers is still strong, e.g. as a result of rising fuel costs. Restricting fishing areas is likely to increase pressure especially on smaller operations working closer to the coast. In addition, the occurrence and distribution of fish stocks may change in response to climate change, requiring fishers to respond flexibly.

International environmental policy sets out ambitious targets. The Aichi targets for the Convention on Biological Diversity stipulate that by 2020, 10% of marine areas, especially those of high biological and ecological significance, should be managed as protected areas. Other political drivers include the UN Sustainable Development Goals, especially Goal 14 “Life under water”, as well as EU-wide and national biodiversity and climate polices. In its Marine Strategy Framework Directive the EU expects Member States to reach “good environmental status” of marine waters by 2020. Descriptor 3 on commercial fish and shellfish states that “populations of all commercially exploited fish and shellfish are within safe biological limits, exhibiting a population age and size distribution that is indicative of a healthy stock.” Other MSFD descriptors also come into play, such as biodiversity (e.g. overfishing, bycatch) and sea floor integrity (affected e.g. by bottom trawling). Increasingly, there is also public opinion on healthy seas, in particular on achieving sustainable fisheries and protecting iconic species such as seabirds and mammals.

One option for dealing with this conflict is to explore synergies and use fisher’s knowledge to help conservation efforts and vice versa. Another option is to pursue the development of standardised surveys and programmed data collection to estimate conservation measures that are forecast to reduce environmental impacts and increase fisheries yields. Yet another development may be the increasing diversification of fishers into areas such as recreational fishing and tourism, which also depend on good marine conservation status of charismatic megafauna (e.g. dolphin watching).