Fleet dynamics in a changing policy environment

Research output: Thesisinternal PhD, WU

Abstract

The European Common Fisheries Policy has received much criticism. In the first place for failing to implement effective management measures aimed at rebuilding and maintaining fish stocks at a sustainable level. In addition, it is said current fisheries policy fails to integrate the wider ecosystem effects of fishing into policy making, such as reducing pressure on non-target species and habitats. Especially discarding (i.e. throwing back unwanted catches at sea) in commercial fisheries has received an increased amount of negative attention. Public campaigns stressed discarding is a wasteful and disruptive practice as natural resources are extracted from the ecosystem only to be thrown back to sea dead. In response, the European Commission agreed to enforce a discard ban for European fisheries, obliging all European fishing vessels to retain and land their entire catch, including small sized individuals, of all species subject to quota management.

This thesis explores how management measures can mitigate the adverse effects of fishing to support the development of an ecosystem-based approach to fisheries management. I evaluate how fleet dynamics, i.e. the decision of individual skippers on when and where to fish, while competing for similar resources, may influence the performance of management measures. In particular the thesis focusses on how location choice and discard decisions made by individual fishers in a mixed fishery are influenced by management, resource distribution and technological innovations. Using a generic dynamic state variable model (DSVM), specific applications are built to address the behavioural dynamics for the Dutch North Sea flatfish fisheries and the French mixed demersal fisheries in the Channel in response to new management regulations and economic opportunities.

The first research chapter of this thesis (Chapter 2) explores how a combination of quota management with a discard ban may improve the regulation of fishing mortality for a depleted stock that is exploited in a mixed fishery. Our finding show that under a discard ban, when properly enforced, individual fishers reallocate fishing effort away from areas and weeks with high catch rates of the quota constrained species, reducing over-quota discarding and thus contributes to the conservation of vulnerable species. However, discard reduction measures which coincide with a reduction in the economic performance of the fishery may jeopardise compliance as fishers may trade-off economic gains of non-compliance against the costs.

Fishers will discard marketable fish when quota are exhausted (over-quota discarding) or by trying to optimize their economic return by discarding size or age classes with the lowest economic value (high-grading). In chapter 3 observations of over-quota discarding and high-grading are reviewed to gain insight in the conditions under which discard decisions may occur. The review suggest that high-grading occurs under different management systems for a large variety of fisheries worldwide. In addition, outcomes of the simulation model illustrate fishers have the ability to strategically plan their fishing activities to optimize the composition of their catch taking account of the availability of quota and seasonal price variations. As a result, the size composition of the high-graded catch differs from the landed catch. Difficulties in accounting for this difference may undermine the accuracy of the stock assessments and quality of scientific advice.

Chapter 4 addresses the question how a ban on discarding may promote the transition towards more selective fishing gears. Model results suggest that under a discard ban, fishing activities are restricted and reallocated away from areas and weeks of high catches of small fish constrained by quota. Activities are allocated to areas and weeks where a maximum revenue can be realised landing other species and economically more valuable length classes of the quota restricted species.  When using more selective fishing gear, fishing activities will be less restricted. Fewer small fish are landed which would otherwise be counted against the quota, fetching a low price and reduce the economic value of the landings. Hence, there is an economic advantage and fishers can continue fishing for a longer period of time, including areas where a higher density of small fish as well as more economically valuable fish co-occur. As such, if properly enforced, a discard ban can incentivise the use of more selective gear to reduce the catch of undersized fish.

Trawl fisheries targeting demersal fish and shellfish cause mortality on target and non-target species, but impact benthic ecosystems. Fisheries managers mainly resort to technical management measures, such as gear restrictions or spatial measures to mitigate these impacts. Chapter 5 explores the potential of a habitat credit system as an alternative management approach to achieve sustainable exploitation of target species while minimizing the impact on the benthic ecosystem. Results show that a habitat credit system has the potential to reduce the benthic impact and maintain profitable fisheries as vessels can adjust their behaviour by reallocating fishing activities to make optimal use of the available credits.

Fishers can adapt and change their behaviour in relation to imposed constraints, which can lead to unintended and unexpected consequences of fisheries management. To date, the effect of behavioural adaptations of individual fishers on the success of fisheries management is often overlooked by policymakers. The models developed in this thesis provide a strong basis to explore possible unexpected effects of management measures resulting from the adaptive behaviour of fishers to these measures. Outcomes of this thesis draw attention to the importance of making fleet dynamics an integral part of fisheries management and the need to develop innovative analytical methodologies which deliver sufficiently robust insights into complex socioeconomic and ecosystem issues to improve the basis of decision making.

Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Wageningen University
Supervisors/Advisors
  • Rijnsdorp, Adriaan, Promotor
  • Poos, Jan Jaap, Co-promotor
Award date23 Nov 2016
Place of PublicationWageningen
Publisher
Print ISBNs9789462579521
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2016

Keywords

  • fleet dynamics
  • fisheries
  • fishery policy
  • fishery management
  • sustainability
  • pleuronectiformes

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