WWF: Independent observer programmes key to sustainable fisheries Published: 30 November, 2006
A NEW report released today by WWF demonstrates the value and cost-effectiveness of well-designed at-sea observer programmes in managing sustainable fisheries.
WWF is calling for this practice to be adopted as standard practice in sustainable fisheries management across European waters.
At-sea observers offer one of the only independent sources of some types of fisheries data, including bycatch composition and mortality and interaction with sharks, marine mammals, sea birds and turtles. In addition, the presence of observers on vessels acts as a disincentive for illegal or bad fishing practices and offers the opportunity to employ bycatch quotas.
With a commitment from EU Member States (under the current Common Fisheries Policy) to work towards an ecosystem based management approach to fisheries, observer programmes provide the perfect tool for providing a better understanding of the effect that the fishery has on the ecosystem as a whole by improving data on the fishery. This will also improve assessments and the advice on quotas and effort management.
How can at-sea observer programmes be planned and implemented for maximum effectiveness? How can they be improved and made more cost-effective? What is best practice? This report Observer Programmes: Best Practice Funding Options and North Sea Case Study, by Marine Resources Assessment Group (MRAG) examines the details of planning an observer programme with coverage, costs and delivery models, including defining and agreeing objectives, funding, specifying technical procedure, technology-based recording systems and gear measurement. Twelve observer programmes from across the world ranging in scale and objectives, are reviewed and assessed. The report also looks at best practise for creating a North Sea whitefish fishery observer programme.
Observer programmes are a vital tool in managing a fishery sustainably and should be standard practice, particularly for fisheries subject to recovery measures. There is often a misconception that observer programmes are expensive and difficult to implement or fund. However, the report notes that costings should be looked at relative to the cost of a poorly managed fishery, where continued infringements or poor management will lead to unsustainable fishing of the resource and low returns financially. As such the cost of an observer programme should be viewed as an investment in the long term sustainable management of that fishery. By reviewing the current situation in a North Sea whitefish fishery the report offers a road map for how a co-ordinated observer programme could be effectively achieved in European fisheries, said Helen McLachlan, Marine Policy Officer WWF Scotland.
Commenting on the management considerations for fisheries in the North Sea the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES) highlight the benefits of observer programmes. They note that industry initiated programmes to pursue incentives to avoid catching species that are identified as critical stocks should be encouraged but that they must include a high rate of independent observer coverage. WWF is keen to see the European Commission and Member States invest more resources into observer programmes and make them a fundamental part of current fisheries management.