Baltic fishermen could be excused for their scepticism when they learned that the latest ICES Advice calls for large reductions in total allowable catch (TAC) next year for salmon, wild salmon, and sea trout. If smolt production is increasing and exploitation is decreasing, everything should be fine in this fishery. So why the advised decrease?
In June, Advisory Committee (ACOM) Vice-chair Carl O’Brien had formally presented the ICES advice to the Baltic Sea RAC’s three working groups, the demersal, pelagic, and salmon and sea trout fisheries. During his seven-hour presentation given over two days, the ICES assumption that Poland had misreported large amounts of salmon as sea trout was challenged and questioned.
O’Brien recalls, “After I presented the advice, there was a clear need for a further meeting to explain in more detail how the assessment was undertaken and how the advice was derived”.
The special August meeting was held to discuss the Baltic Sea RAC’s salmon and sea trout working group’s report and to square it with ICES advice for salmon and the scientific quota proposal for 2012. It was hoped that, by coming to grips with the areas of uncertainty in face-to-face dialogue, mutual understanding would be reached. According to ACOM Chair Jean-Jacques Maguire, who attended the August meeting, “We’ve had interactions on Baltic demersals and pelagics in the past, and this has helped us build a relationship of trust. This hadn’t happened yet with salmon and trout, and so this meeting was the first step in establishing that kind of trust”.
Sally Clink, the Baltic Sea RAC’s Executive Secretary, commented “We were very impressed with the amount of resources and number of person-hours that ICES was willing to devote to such a meeting. It felt like a turning point, because it was the first time we had what could be called a joint ICES–RAC meeting, co-chaired by both parties”.
O’Brien said, “The meeting was productive and gave everyone a better understanding of the advice, especially on the model and the data used. However, the discussions also left some issues in need of further review, especially the issue of misreporting in the Polish salmon and sea trout fishery and how to determine potential smolt production capacity in the different rivers of the Baltic”.
At the August meeting, Johan Dannewitz, Chair of ICES Working Group on Baltic Salmon and Trout (WGBAST), explained the origin of the ICES advice, and that the decrease is the result of the low pre-fishery abundance. ICES advice does not depend directly on the assumed misreporting: if misreporting was not assumed, the missing fish would be assigned to increased mortality at sea.
Maguire points out that, “At the end of the day, whether misreporting is assumed or not, the advice is not going to change because it is based on the pre-fishery abundance, which does not depend strongly on catch. But it might change the perception of why pre-fishery abundance is low”.
Smolt production has increased in the rivers that empty into the northern portion of the Baltic, but production in the southern portion has not increased and, in some cases, has decreased. This points to positive reactions to the management plan in some areas, while in other areas, the reaction is neutral or negative. Implementation of the plan has been carried out uniformly throughout the Baltic Sea, leading to the possibility that the targets are inappropriate.
Factors affecting survival of salmon at sea will be the focus of an ICES and NASCO symposium, “Salmon at Sea: Scientific Advances and their Implications for Management”, to be held in La Rochelle, France, 11 to 13 October 2011.
Although the joint meeting was a first for ICES and the Baltic Sea RAC, ICES held similar get-togethers last January with the Northwestern waters and the North Sea RACs. O’Brien points out that other such meetings between RACs and scientists are already taking place elsewhere.
In summing up, Clink says, “It was very positive. We felt that we had an ACOM chair who was really listening. He was really reflecting on what we were saying and making some very constructive comments. I hope we can repeat the process”.
More about Regional Advisory Councils
RACs consist of representatives from the fishing sector and other interest groups affected by the Common Fisheries Policy. These include fishery associations, producer organizations, processors, market organizations, environmental NGOs, aquaculture producers, consumers, women’s networks, and recreational and sports fishermen.
Although they are not part of the formal decision-making process, RACs remain influential owing to the quality of their proposals and recommendations, based on practical experience of local waters and the fisheries concerned. Since 2004, RACs have issued more than 200 recommendations.
The Baltic Sea RAC, which came into being in 2006, has three working groups: demersal, pelagic, salmon and sea trout fisheries. It covers ICES areas IIIb, IIIc, and IIId. Its members include Estonia, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Sweden.