The announcement this week that the catches for the first loligo season for 2012 totaled 34,900 metric tones, equal to more than the entire catch for 2011, coincides with the 25th anniversary of the opening of the Falkland Island fishery.
Commenting to MercoPress today Director of Natural Resources, John Barton, said that the fact that the fishery was still operating so successfully after 25 years was in itself a “rip-roaring success”. The “bumper” season for loligo, the one species that is local to the Islands and where total fishing effort is managed entirely by the Falkland Island Fishery Department, demonstrates the effective and sustainable management of short-lived stocks in the Islands, said Barton.
The 150 nautical-mile radius Falkland Island Conservation and Management Zone was announced in October 1986 and deep-sea fishing under local licensing began in early 1987. The declaration of an economic maritime zone was much welcomed by Islanders who for years had observed international fishing fleets exploiting the natural resources of the Islands within 3 miles of the shoreline. The advent of a managed fishing regime not only led to very important economic growth in the Islands but also put in place conservation and stock management practices that helped protect local marine resources from uncontrolled exploitation.
“If the legacy of war”, said Barton, “was security and political stability for the Islands, the opening of the fisheries zone has given them economic stability and prosperity”.
The revenue to the Falkland Islands Government from fisheries licensing has been used primarily to build up the pre-1982 under-developed infrastructure in the Islands – a road network throughout, new schools, wind power generation, housing, medical facilities and fisheries protection, to name a few. The increased economic activity, however, has generated better incomes and hence tax revenue - an increasingly important source of Government funds.
For the fishing industry itself, the development over the last 25 years has been equally significant, moving from a licence brokerage system to joint-ventureships with foreign (principally Spanish) companies and locally owned and operated vessels. For the industry undoubtedly the single most important development in the fishery was the establishment in 2007 of a transferable system of property rights (ITQ) in those fisheries where local involvement in the companies operating in the Islands was highly active.
Cheryl Roberts, current Chair of the Falkland Islands Fisheries Association said that that the development of ITQ has given local companies better abilities to have effective management and control of fishing activity. “It has allowed us to work better and have a more equal relationship with our joint-venture partners” she said.
“The security of long-term licences, of effective ownership of the resource for 25 years, gives us real incentive to invest in the industry.” As a result, a closer working relationship between industry and the Fisheries Department on sustainability measures and stock assessments has evolved as companies seek to ensure the long-term viability of their revenue stream.
John Barton is more cautious but equally confidant that the move to property rights was the right way to go to: “there were a number of aspirations held in putting a property rights system in place. Giving companies the security to invest in added value, fleet renewal, marketing strategies and so on will lead to economic efficiency and ultimately, greater tax revenues. It is still too early to say if it has all been delivered, but the transition went well and the new system creates more incentive for investment in the industry.”
The benefits of increasing “localization” of the fishery have been highlighted by both the Fisheries Department and the industry as important works-in-progress. For Barton one of the most significant advances in the Fisheries has been the transfer of fisheries science from Imperial College in London to the local Fisheries Department’s multi-national team, a transition that would appear to have been successful. In a report published in 2009 in the online Biology Journal of the Public Library of Science it was recorded that worldwide, the Faeroe and Falkland Islands had the best overall rankings in fisheries management and were in the top quarter for all three indicators of scientific robustness, policy making transparency and implementation capability.
This apparent effective management has extended to the protection of other species affected by fishing activity, such as seabirds. Following reports towards the end of the last century highlighting the high levels of seabird mortality arising out of both long-lining and trawling activity, a joint project by an NGO, Falklands Conservation, and the Fisheries Department, led to the development of National Plans of Action which were put in place in 2004. Since then, seabird mortality in the long-line fishery has dropped to zero and great strides have been made in the trawler fishery.
As a member of the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) put it, the adoption of these Falklands Action Plans is a milestone in protecting the beleaguered albatrosses of the Southern Ocean. They put the Falklands at the forefront of seabird-friendly fishing and have lit a beacon for other fishing nations to follow.
Both industry and the Falkland Islands Government appear confident of the manner in which the Falklands Fishery has progressed over the last 25 years and consider it a notable success. One big area of concern, however, highlighted by both Barton and Roberts, is the lack of regional fisheries management and co-operation. The South Atlantic Fisheries Commission, established in 1989, was a forum for providing joint stock assessment and information exchange between Argentina and the Falklands. After operating successfully for several years, however, Argentina finally walked out of those meetings in 2005 declaring that unless sovereignty of the Islands could be placed on the agenda, no further matters could be discussed.
“There is an on-going concern in the industry” said Cheryl Roberts, “that the SAFC has never been resurrected and the industry would like to see it back in place without political interference.”
John Barton for his part pointed out that one only needed to compare the difference between the continued success of the loligo squid fishery, one that is wholly within Falklands control, and the illex squid fishery representing the biggest fishery resource in the South West Atlantic and under strain from lack of joint management: “Illex could have been a similar success to loligo with better co-operation”, said Barton.
Other species, such as Southern Blue Whiting and the hake fishery, stocks which are also shared with a greater or lesser extent with Argentina, are also showing signs of strain, although Barton admitted that some anomalies in the science suggested that despite indications of over-fishing, climatic change might have played some part in changes to territorial stocks.
Another area of concern to everyone in the Islands, including the industry and the Government, is the lack of good working practices and safety conditions on board some vessels that operate intermittently out of the Islands. Whilst safety requirements are rigorous on those vessels that operate under the ITQ system, local Government has no control over vessels of other flag states and working out how to influence change in this area remains an issue.
Despite the challenges and the drawbacks that affect the industry, however, and whatever other developments might be on the horizon in terms of hydrocarbons, it is clear that the fishery will remain a stable and valuable part of the Falkland Islands economy and culture for many years to come. The Islands have good reason to celebrate 25 years of the Fishery and to be quietly confident of its future.