Wednesday, 18 April 2012

TFCs putting fishing communities on the brink

An article published by Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera earlier this year has highlighted how the system of Transferable Fishing Concessions has decimated fishing communities on the Danish island of Bornholm – a shocking state of affairs which may also be replicated across Europe.

Fishing has always been the key activity in the Baltic island of Bornholm, providing a livelihood for small scale fishermen across generations. However, Danish fishermen are facing increasing difficulties – from scarce fish resources to low market prices and high operating costs.

In order to address profitability issues, the Danish government has introduced a system of Transferable Fishing Concessions (TFCs), aimed at promoting economic efficiency in the fishing fleet. Each vessel is assigned a fixed proportion of the annual Danish quota, and this right to fish can be transferred or leased among vessels.

Theoretically, this system provides a natural asset to each operator in the fleet, which should induce stewardship for the resource – collapsed fish stocks will make these concessions worthless, whereas healthy populations of fish would make the concession increase in monetary value.

However, assigning a monetary value to a natural resource and allowing users to trade it effectively resulted in a TFC market – where those with the most money can buy out the smaller vessels. As a consequence, fishing quotas are becoming increasingly concentrated in the hands of just a few industrial vessel owners – while their crew are left with nothing.

Another perverse effect of the TFC system is that the larger vessels, which are usually more destructive, buy out the smaller, generally more environment-friendly vessels.

The decline of coastal fishing has had profound effects in Bornholm’s society and economy. Its once vibrant processing industry, which at one point in time employed almost 2000 people, has all but disappeared. Young people can no longer aspire to become fishermen as the cost of acquiring a vessel and a TFC is estimated at around EUR 1 million.

However, this cautionary tale might not be the last we hear of TFCs and their effect on the fishing sector. The Corriere della Sera points out that such a scenario could be replicated across the rest of Europe due to the European Commission’s proposal to impose the TFC system on all EU Member States through the current reform of the Common Fisheries Policy. The Commission’s proposal has proved to be extremely controversial and has stirred heated debates in the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers.

Seas At Risk is advocating a reform of the CFP which gives Member States the flexibility to choose among a range of fleet management and access management tools. Key among these should be the use of social and environmental access criteria to reward responsible fishing with priority access to fish resources.

By Vera Coelho


Corriere della Sera article (in Italian):

Corriere della Sera article (in English):

European Commission’s CFP reform proposals: