Does size matter? Assessing the use of vessel length to manage fisheries in England
01 November, 2018 Griffin Carpenter

Recent European Union policy objectives have committed to support small-scale coastal fisheries (SSCF), but the characteristics and sustainability of SSCF in Europe are poorly understood. In the UK, there is no clear definition of ‘small-scale’ beyond a 10-m length threshold used for fishing vessel administration. This paper examines the consequences of length-based management of English fisheries, and explores future management possibilities. The 15 highest-value species for the English under-10 m fishing fleet were evaluated according to Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) pre-assessment criteria. Based on the information collected through Project Inshore, very few of the key under-10 m fisheries, the majority of which are shellfish, would be suitable for MSC certification due to poor stock health and/or stock uncertainty. The current structure of the under-10 m fleet was examined by vessel length class. Policy measures based on the under-10 m/over-10 m vessel classification have led to an increase in high-catching capacity ‘super-under-10s’, which contribute disproportionately to total landings by under-10 m vessels, and may have fishing patterns more representative of larger vessels. In a survey of English fishers (n = 41), fisheries managers (n = 12) and other stakeholders (n = 8), the majority (91%) supported a distinction between small-scale/inshore and large-scale/offshore vessels. Most (65%) viewed the current classification (based on vessel length alone) as inappropriate. Length remained the most popular criterion for future management, but several alternatives scored highly, including fishing gear type. In the UK, post-‘Brexit’ fisheries policy reform will require further examination of the meaning of ‘small-scale’, to ensure that support for SSCF is directed appropriately.

This article was originally published in the Journal of Marine Policy here.

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