European Union, Norway and the United Kingdom - fisheries consultations: agreed records 2022

Agreed records of consultations from meetings of delegations from the United Kingdom, Norway and the European Union, held between October and December 2021 on the joint management of shared North Sea stocks.


Herring

15.1. The Delegations noted that according to the ICES MSY approach catches in 2022 in the North Sea, Skagerrak and Kattegat, and eastern English Channel should be no more than 532,183 tonnes. This represents an increase of 45% in the advice compared to 2021.

15.2. The Delegations noted that the stock underwent an inter-benchmark in 2021 to account for new natural mortality estimates, which led to an improved assessment and updated reference points. The Delegations noted ICES comments that the FMSY estimate is sensitive to assumptions on the productivity of the stock and recent changes in selection. They also noted that ICES says that stability elements such as TAC constraints could be considered to dampen fluctuations in catch in the coming years (notably in case of further revisions to the target) given the downward stock trajectory.

15.3. A Working Group on herring was established in 2021. The main task of this Working Group was to recommend how to optimally and sustainably utilise the North Sea Autumn Spawning(NSAS) herring in the North Sea and explore methods for TAC-setting. The Working Group was also asked to make recommendations for management models, including TAC-setting for herring in Skagerrak and Kattegat, where NSAS herring mixes with Western Baltic Spring Spawning (WBSS) herring stocks. Several subgroups consisting of scientific experts and policy colleagues convened over the course of 2021 to complete the first action within the Working Group’s terms of reference (Annex III). A representative from each subgroup presented their provisional findings during the opening plenary session of the consultations for 2022. The subgroups will produce a report of their findings by the end of 2021 ahead of a Working Group meeting in early 2022 to action the remaining aspects of the terms of reference. The Delegations will then meet in order to develop a long-term management strategy.

15.4. The Delegations noted that the presentation of the Working Group on herring given in Round 1 of the consultations, when taken together with information in the ICES stock annex for North Sea herring, indicate the importance of the Skagerrak and the Southern North Sea as nursery areas for juveniles and young herring. Delegations also noted that the presentation of the Working Group indicated the intermixing of North Sea herring and WBSS herring in the Skagerrak and North Sea, whereby the majority of WBSS catches now occur in the Skagerrak and to a lesser extent in the Eastern North Sea.

15.5. The Delegations noted that ICES has advised a zero catch of WBSS herring since 2019. They also noted the decision by the European Union to establish a TAC for 2022 of 788 tonnes for WBSS herring in Subareas 22-24 exclusively used for bycatch in the Baltic Sea.

15.6. The Delegations also noted that the TACs for the C and D fleets are to be set out in the EU-Norway bilateral agreement on the regulation of fisheries in the Skagerrak and Kattegat for 2022. The Delegations further noted that that agreement set out the TACs for the C and D fleets, which respectively should not exceed 25,021 tonnes and 6,659 tonnes.

15.7. The Delegations agreed to establish a TAC for 2022 for the A fleet of 427,628 tonnes. This is an increase of 20% compared to 2021. They also agreed that bycatches of herring in other fisheries (the B fleet) would be limited to 8,174 tonnes in 2022. This is an increase of 5.5% compared to 2021.

15.8. The Norwegian Delegation noted that the concept of by-catch quotas was introduced as early as 1997, aiming at limiting large bycatches of juvenile herring in the sprat fishery. Fisheries management has developed considerably since then, and these days most managers understand that such catches will reduce future yield from the stock. This is of particular concern given the low recruitment to the stock since 2001 and the resulting downward stock trajectory. Catches of juvenile herring represent a serious case of growth overfishing. Earlier management plans have restricted catches of juveniles by restricting the F0-1 to a maximum; 0.05 in the previous LTMP. The currently used MSY approach only directly affect older herring, and thus any F0-1 could theoretically be claimed to be in line with the MSY approach even when being unsustainable - in principle every juvenile (0-1) herring could be fished. In periods with poor recruitment, minimizing juvenile bycatches is especially important. ICES has continued to assume a limit on F0-1 in the advice (around 0.05). The B- and D-fleet contributes most to F0-1, and the sum of all the fleet TACs should not result in an F0-1 above 0.05. When there is a zero advice for Skagerrak, thus a zero catch assumed for the C- and D-fleet, as in the advice for 2022, the B-fleet catches are set higher than they would be if non-zero D-fleet catches are assumed. If a decision is made to set a non-zero TAC for the D-fleet, the B-fleet should be adjusted downwards to avoid fishing at an F0-1 above 0.05.

15.9. The EU Delegation notes that in general, protection of juveniles is an important element of fisheries management. The current level of juvenile herring mortality in the EU industrial fisheries is very low in comparison to natural mortality and therefore the EU Delegation does not consider current by-catches to constitute a risk of growth overfishing. In 1997, the EU and Norway agreed to limit by-catches of herring to 22,000 tonnes and that this quota should be allocated to the EU, being the only Party that decided to impose such a limitation on its industrial fisheries. Since this date, the EU has set specific by-catch limits in order to cap catches at a pre-defined level and that once the by-catch TAC is reached, fisheries with by-catches of herring are stopped. Since 1997 fisheries mortality on juvenile herring by the EU fleet have as a result been constrained to levels below one fourth of those 1960-1996. The EU considers that permitting fisheries with by-catches of herring without limits on juvenile by-catches does not offer protection for juveniles as catches could substantially exceed levels as prescribed and agreed by managers. The EU notes that the usage of by-catch limits increases transparency as well as prevents that the entire herring quota can be utilised for the purpose of by-catches of juveniles taken in other fisheries. In order to fully assess the impact of herring by-catches associated with other fisheries, the EU Delegation considers that catches of 0-1 herring should be computed separately to those originating from directed fisheries for herring and catch levels be exchanged between parties. The EU Delegation also considers that monitoring and control of herring by-catches should be considered by the joint Working Group on Control, Monitoring and Surveillance as a priority. The EU Delegation notes that there is no agreed target limit for F0-1, and that a separate target for F0-1 is not included in the criteria for the ICES MSY approach. The EU Delegation takes note of the view expressed by Norway. However, the EU Delegation considers fixed quotas for herring bycatches in industrial fisheries as an effective and therefore key management measure to limit juvenile herring mortality. The EU Delegation is committed through the joint Expert Group on herring to explore management approaches that have the objective to limit herring by-catches. 

15.10. The United Kingdom Delegation noted the many complexities inherent to managing herring stocks across the North Sea, Skagerrak, Kattegat and the Western Baltic, and urged all Parties to focus their efforts, in the relevant forums in 2022, on putting in place robust management measures for these stocks in the interests of long-term stock sustainability, particularly in light of the downward trajectory of the North Sea stock, as noted by ICES.

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