Marinet informs the EU and OSPAR on the need for a strong definition of MSFD Descriptor 3 dealing with fish stocks

At the OSPAROSPAR Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic made up of representatives of the Governments of the 15 signatory nations. meeting in London on 12th September 2014, attended by the EU Commission, Marinet presented the case for both a strong definition and a genuine implementation of Descriptor 3 which defines “good environmental status” for commercial fish and shellfish stocks within the EU’s Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD). The MSFD requires good environmental status to be achieved by 2020.

The legal definition of Descriptor 3 in the MSFD is: “Populations of all commercially exploited fish and shellfish are within safe biological limits, exhibiting a population age and size distribution that is indicative of a healthy stock.”

However Member States, with the tacit assent of the EU Commission, are currently ignoring the part of the Descriptor which states “… exhibiting a population age and size distribution that is indicative of a healthy stock”, and are basing the definition of “safe biological limit” on just being able to maintain the current size of the spawning stock. Unfortunately, the current size of spawning stocks are severely depleted due to over-fishing and other factors, and so there is a grave danger that the implementation of Descriptor 3 is being debased. Credence to this concern is fostered by the fact that the EU Commission is currently “reviewing the definitions” of all Descriptors in the Directive.

Marinet presented a paper to the OSPAR meeting which sought to address and arrest this debasement of Descriptor 3, and asked for the following Minute to be placed in the recorded Minutes of the meeting:

“7.1 Friends of the Earth / MARINET presented a paper on the determination of good environmental status with respect to Descriptor 3 on fish stocks (ICG MSFD(2) 14/7/Info.1-Rev.1). MARINET considers that the definition currently being used to define “safe biological limit” is inadequate because the definition is based on the “spawning stock” and spawning stocks are currently at very depleted levels, primarily due to over-fishing. If stocks are to be restored to good environmental status i.e. to a “healthy condition”, then both the spawning stock (and hence “safe biological limit”) needs to be referenced not to the current depleted levels of the stock but rather the maximum levels of the stock which current ecological conditions will permit, i.e. their real potential, rather than current depressed level. In order to achieve this rebuilding of stocks, it is essential that stocks contain older fish. The more mature the adult, the greater its reproductive capabilities. At present, adults in the spawning stock are only being allowed to survive for one year before being fished out. Stocks need to contain mature fish that survive for at least 25% of their adult life, preferably 50% of their adult life. If this is the case, then the reproductive capability of the stock will be sufficient to rebuild the size of stocks in order to re-establish large stocks, which in turn benefits the fishing industry and the overall ecology of the seas, and hence delivers a genuine definition of good environmental status. This is what is meant and required by fish stocks “exhibiting a population age and size distribution that is indicative of a healthy stock.” This objective is attained by closing spawning areas to fishing, thus protecting the breeding stock during this key stage in the stock’s life cycle, and by increasing the net size to catch fish only after they have lived 25% of their adult life, and preferably only after having lived 50% of their adult life. Finance for this shift in management is available via EU subsidies from the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund. If we do not define and apply Descriptor 3 in the way, the situation is akin to asking the human population to survive on the reproductive capability of its teenagers. This is clearly an absurd proposition for humans, and so it is also for fish.

Please do share this

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • StumbleUpon
  • Add to favorites
  • Email
  • RSS