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Brussels, 29 July 2009.

Long-term management plan for anchovy in the Bay of Biscay: questions and answers

What is the rationale behind long-term management plans?

Multi-annual or long-term plans are one of the great innovations of the 2002 reform of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). Initially introduced for stocks which had been depleted to dangerously low levels ("recovery plans"), they are now being standardised as the method of choice for managing the EU's major commercial fish stocks. Multi-annual planning with clearly defined biological targets removes uncertainty for the industry and prevents short-term influences from continually getting the upper hand.

Today's "long-term" or "multi-annual" plans focus on ensuring that fisheries are managed sustainably for the long term, without artificial distinctions between stocks "in danger" and those which are "safe".

These plans set maximum limits on the inter-annual variation in total allowable catches (TACs) to provide a minimum stability to the fishing industry. In addition, they lay down a range of measures to support sustainable management of the fishery in question. They have also been one of the main vehicles through which effort management (limits on annual days spent at sea) has been introduced into the CFP.

The first multi-annual plan was agreed by ministers in 2004. Since then, the formula has been applied to a range of stocks in EU waters, and the Commission intends progressively to introduce multi-annual planning for all major commercial fish stocks which lend themselves to this approach.

The EU also implements long-term management plans and arrangements for stocks which are managed at international level, bilaterally, or through Regional Fisheries Management Organisations (RFMOs). These include the 15-year recovery plan for eastern bluefin tuna, adopted by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna in 2006.

Why introduce a long-term plan for anchovy now?

Quite simply because the stock is still in a state of collapse and is not showing any signs of recovery. The restrictions on anchovy fishing advocated by scientists over the past decade have not been applied to the TACs set annually. These short-term measures, coupled with several poor recruitment seasons, have triggered a gradual decline in numbers in this short-lived stock and have affected its ability to replenish itself. The fishery collapsed in 2005, when the lowest ever levels of catches were recorded, and has been closed ever since. Current levels are still weak and recruitment of individuals into the fishery is highly dependent on environmental conditions.

What are the long-term plan's objectives?

The first objective is to secure relatively high yields from exploitation of the anchovy stock, consistent with the maximum sustainable yield (MSY). The second objective lies in guaranteeing the stability of the fishery as far as possible, while maintaining a low risk of stock collapse.

How will the proposed procedure for setting annual TACs for anchovy in the Bay of Biscay change the present situation?

At present, the TAC for anchovy is fixed provisionally in December, as part of the annual Council Regulation on fishing opportunities in the North-East Atlantic, and then amended, if need be, once the Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries (STECF) has issued its advice the following June. The resulting procedure is slow and may not allow the TAC to be set in time for the opening of a fishing season running from 1 July to 30 June the following year, as requested by the industry. The proposed Regulation would instead establish a long-term rule which would allow the TAC to be set directly each year as soon as STECF advice on the biomass level is received. The plan would also directly establish the relevant allocation between Member States, enabling the Commission to immediately inform the Member States concerned of the applicable TAC level for each season. This new and innovative approach will make the anchovy procedure far simpler and quicker than it is at present. It should also be acceptable to both the fishing sector and the Member States concerned.

How does the proposed harvest control rule work?

Under the proposed harvesting rule, a fishery closure would be triggered whenever the mean measured spawning biomass (the stock's population of sexually mature fish) is equal to or less than 24 000 tonnes. The rule sets a TAC of 7 000 tonnes for biomass measuring between 24 001 and the so-called precautionary biomass level (Bpa) of 33 000 tonnes. Bpa is the population of mature fish required to secure a safe biological state for the stock. For biomass above Bpa the TAC will be set at 30 per cent of the current biomass level, up to a ceiling of 33 000 tones, which is the maximum catch level that has been historically recorded.

What is the structure of the new long-term management plan?

Apart from the harvest control rule, two other important chapters have been included:

  • Control provisions in line with the new proposed Control Regulation, catering for special rules concerning fishing permits, vessel monitoring systems, effort and catch cross-checks. Furthermore, the plan lays down the basis for defining a national control action programme and specific inspection benchmarks for the anchovy stock.

  • Financial assistance through the European Fisheries Fund if the fishery is closed or the biomass level falls below the Bpa of 33 000 tonnes.

The plan also caters for a future revision, should biological reference points be changed and/or additional surveys included within the advice process.

Was the advice from stakeholders taken on board in the long-term management plan?

The Regional Advisory Councils (RACs), and in particular the South Western Waters Regional Advisory Council, were consulted from the very beginning. Their involvement led to fruitful discussions with managers and scientists on the different options for rules. In fact, the harvesting rule within this long-term management plan is based on a proposal initially put forward by the RAC and subsequently analysed by the STECF.

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