Small, coastal fishing boats, or the ‘Inshore Fleet’, make up nearly three-quarters of England’s fishing fleet. But relatively small landings per vessel, with varying market demand from one day to the next, make it hard to attract investment for scientific research and ultimately the data to inform decision-making.
While the small-scale inshore fisheries in England have been subject to a more coherent management regime for longer than the offshore fisheries (The Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 modernized the way that inshore fisheries are managed in England and in April 2011, SFCs were replaced with Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authorities (IFCAs)), it has been the offshore industrial-scale fisheries that have come to dominate the policy agenda as the Common Fisheries Policy has evolved over the last four decades.
The offshore sector is the source of the larger part of commercial fish landings, but many more fishermen gain a living from inshore fisheries. Many more vessels, albeit smaller, are used in these fisheries, and arguably inshore fishing is much more closely integrated into the culture of coastal communities. Furthermore, an increasing proportion of overall landings comes from inshore waters – for example, in terms of overall value of English seafood landings, shellfish from inshore waters make a huge contribution.
The aim of Project Inshore was to utilize the MSC preassessment process strategically as a gap analysis framework to review the current status and management within English inshore fisheries. The MSC standard for sustainable fisheries provides a useful indicator of where a fishery is in relation to the FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries. It also provides a structure to guide the development of future management action through bespoke fishery management plans for each IFCA. Ultimately, these plans will facilitate English inshore fisheries moving towards sustainability.
Sussex SFC piloted this approach in 2010 using the MSC pre-assessment framework to evaluate the performance of 26 local inshore fisheries. Subsequently Sussex IFCA adopted a ‘programme of actions’ to create a strategic direction for fisheries research based on the recommendations of the pilot. These included: establishing a limited normative catch, effort and biometric reporting system; developing appropriate stock assessment indicators; and developing appropriate biological reference levels for by-catch, discards, and habitat and ecosystem indicators.
Following the success of the pilot, we replicated this model with a nationwide pre-assessment of the inshore fisheries operating within the remaining English IFCA districts.
The project was split into three stages: stage one mapped over 450 different fisheries within the English inshore sector (out to 6 nautical miles); stage two assessed all of the fisheries within each IFCA district using the MSC standard to score how each fishery was performing; and stage three produced roadmaps for sustainable management for each IFCA.
The stage two reports held few surprises for many species, and several species were considered ready to enter a full MSC assessment in their current state. Those fisheries highlighted as showing good practice include, for example, trammel net caught sole in the Western Channel, North Sea herring caught by drift net and Thames Estuary cockle.
Cod stocks in the North Sea – often perceived as a species to avoid –were found to be close to a level where they could meet the MSC Standard. The report showed that strong management measures had made a positive impact and concluded that once stocks reach the biomass limit reference point (Blim) all other areas of the fisheries were ready to enter a MSC full assessment. In June 2015, ICES produced their advice for North Sea cod and Blim had been exceeded; North Sea cod will enter MSC full assessment in the near future which is an incredible success story.
In total, around 50 fisheries were found to be performing at a level that could be considered in the short- to medium-term to move on to full MSC assessment. The remaining inshore fisheries require a longer-term programme of work to get them to perform at this level. Red gurnard, often a favourite among those encouraging consumers to choose alternative species, fared less well. A shortage of data about fish stocks and limited management of catches meant that there is an urgent case for investment to improve our understanding of this fishery. While a shortage of data does not mean that the fisheries are inherently unsustainable, that data will be increasingly important as the species gains in popularity and catches increase.
Stage three of Project Inshore was completed in April 2015 and the publication of roadmaps for sustainable management for each IFCA allow fishermen, managers, policy makers, NGOs and industry to work together in a focused and targeted way to deliver improvements across the country to ensure healthy English fisheries.
The Project Inshore approach is now being recognized internationally. Seafish has been contacted by organizations across the globe interested in applying the approach to their fisheries. We believe this model has potential for other bodies and countries to adopt as a blueprint for their own data-deficient fisheries management.