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Allocating fishing rights to the most sustainable fishers – practical recommendations

AUTHORS: Stephanie Newman

One of its most important reforms in the new Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) is the introduction of a requirement on Member States to use transparent and objective criteria of an environmental (and social and economic) nature when allocating fishing opportunities. It also requires Member States to provide incentives to fishing vessels using selective fishing gear or fishing methods that have a reduced environmental impact. 

In the UK and other Member States, fishing opportunities are generally allocated on the basis of historic access to the resource. Therefore, obliging Member States to use environmental, social and economic criteria when allocating fishing opportunities will require novel approaches and careful thought. This report for RSPB makes recommendations for UK Governments on how to implement this requirement comprehensively and ambitiously.

The review of the current systems of allocating fishing opportunities in the UK has revealed that the consideration of environmental criteria in the distribution of access has developed in an ad-hoc way, and the result is a piecemeal approach, with certain limited criteria being taken into consideration for some fisheries but not others. The environmental advantages of the current systems of allocating fishing opportunities should be preserved but more could be done to encourage greater use of selective gears, gear modifications and methods. For example, a fixed percentage of quota could be retained and allocated in the form of a ‘quota bonus’ according to environmental criteria to the most sustainable fishing operators. 

In order to provide incentives to fishing vessels deploying selective fishing gear or using fishing techniques with reduced environmental impact, it is necessary to distinguish between different gears and methods and make a choice as to which impacts are more important under the circumstances of the specific fishery. We propose using the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) criteria as a proxy, given that they are well-established, internationally recognised and applicable, and numerous fisheries in the UK have already undergone MSC assessment or pre-assessment.

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