Total Allowable Catch (TAC) Management - How Fish Quotas are Agreed
Many stocks exploited by Scottish fishermen are managed under the EU Common Fisheries Policy ( CFP), administered by the European Commission. An important part of the management procedure is the use of TACs. Most TACs are set on an annual basis and are the result of a cycle of events ending in the December Council of Fisheries Ministers, which decides on the final TACs for the following year. In the early days of the CFP, TACs were mainly used to provide a starting point for allocating fish resources (quotas) to different member states. Soon after, however, TACs were used to control the amount of fish removed each year from the sea.
Fixing the level of fish TACs that can be caught by EU member states is a complex process, and EU fisheries ministers have the final say on the quotas to be allocated for the next twelve months. Sometimes scientific advice on how much of a certain species should be caught is followed to the letter. This is particularly the case where a long term management plan exists for the stock. It is not, however, unusual for ministers to agree on levels which are different from the European Commission's initial proposals.
Different TACs are applied in different areas for different species, the so called TAC areas ( see map). These areas do not always correspond exactly with the areas of stock distribution used in the assessments. For example, the assessment area for haddock North Sea, Skagerrak and West of Scotland (now assessed as a single stock) includes ICES division IIIa, Subarea IV and Division VIa, so the forecast catch for this stock is split up to provide a TAC for each of the constituent parts.
It is also important to remember that before the December Council of Fisheries Ministers meeting takes place, an agreement must be reached with Norway - not an EU member - on quota shares. This is because the main North Sea demersal and pelagic stocks are shared by Norway and the EU. For some widely distributed stocks, this process also occurs between the 'coastal states' ( e.g. Faroes).
While TACs are strongly influenced by politics and have generally not been recommended by scientists as the appropriate management measure for demersal stocks, they are based on catch forecast advice from ICES using data from national research institutes. Each country collects basic biological data from fish landings, observer and research vessel surveys which are used to provide:
- An estimate of the historical trends in landings, spawning stock biomas, recruitment and fishing mortality rate.
- A description of the 'state of the stock' in relation to historic levels.
- The likely medium term development of the stock using different rates of fishing mortality.
- A short term forecast of spawning stock biomass and catch.
ICES divisions shown on the boundaries of the figure may comprise part area only
Assessments performed by a series of ICES working groups are considered by the Advisory Committee ( ACOM), an ICES Committee with representatives from each country. ACOM decides what the official ICES advice on the TAC management will be. For the purposes of TACs, ACOM provides a catch option table for managers consisting of expected catches under different fishing rates, and usually indicates which of the options corresponds most closely to its advice. The advice given is based upon what is likely to happen in the medium term if
the stock is fished at a particular level. Recently, the advice has been to fish at a level likely to achieve MSY that gives good odds of avoiding dangerously low spawning stock size.
The Commission drafts its proposals for TACs applying in the following year using the ICES advice and any other factors that it considers appropriate. For example, the Commission may ask its own advisory body, the Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee on Fisheries ( STECF), for guidance on the economic effects of the scientific advice. Between the time the ICES advice becomes available and the time of the December Council of Fisheries Ministers, the Commission consults with member states about the measures for managing fisheries in the coming year. At this time, member states have the opportunity to influence the Commission in the drafting of the TAC regulation. It is also at this time that the Commission negotiates TACs for jointly managed stocks with Norway. The joint stocks affecting Scotland in the North Sea are cod, haddock, saithe, herring and mackerel.
The Commission has a unique responsibility to make formal proposals about the forthcoming TACs. No other body within the EU may do this, not even the Council or the presidency. The power to make catch proposals lies with the Commission. However, it is the Council of Ministers that makes the final decision. The Council can reject the Commission's proposals and ask for alternatives. Generally, the Commission tries to draft a proposal that will be acceptable to all member states. There is a lengthy process of consultation up to and including the Council meeting to find a compromise.
Once a compromise has been agreed by the Council of Ministers, there is an automatic process of allocating shares of the total TACs to member states. This is done on the basis of a fixed allocation key which was established early in the history of the CFP. The key reflects fishing patterns in the early 1980s which raise problems for certain stocks, for example saithe. Historically, the UK had little interest in landing saithe and consequently it has only a small proportion of the TAC. In the present day more are being caught but the UK is unable to land them owing to the TAC constraint.
Following the allocation of the TACs to member states, the principle of subsidiarity operates. Each member state can administer its quota according to its own preferences provided the catch limits are adhered to and that all member state fishermen are treated equally. In the UK, the trend has been for Government to hand the management of quotas to the producer organisations ( POs). These organisations, run by fishermen, decide how to manage the quotas during the course of the year and usually try to ensure that the fishery remains open for the whole year.
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