Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Thursday, 17 October 2013
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine
Forage Fish: Discussion
I welcome members and guests. I apologise on behalf of our Chairman, Deputy Doyle, who is otherwise engaged. I have also received apologies from Senators Ó Domhnaill and O'Neill. I remind members and witnesses to put their mobile telephones on silent, as they interfere with the technology here. I welcome the witnesses, here to discuss a report entitled Little Fish, Big Impact. I particularly welcome Dr. Ellen Pikitch, who has arrived from America this morning and will be here for the weekend at a very important conference in Malahide. I also thank Mr. Mike Walker and his colleagues Ms Charlotte Hudson and Ms Angela Bednarek for taking up our invitation.
Witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of evidence they give to the committee. However, if they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and continue to do so, they are entitled thereafter only to qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable. Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.
Dr. Ellen Pikitch:
I was offering my welcome comments and thanking the committee. It is a pleasure and an honour to attend. We will discuss a group of fish that we call forage fish, small-bodied fish that we have found to have a large impact on marine ecosystems. Often, they are schooling species and tend to be high in the pelagic water column. They include species such as sardines, anchovies, krill, herring and eels. They play a unique and special role in marine ecosystems, in that they are able to feed on plankton and are in turn fed upon by many other organisms, thereby transferring energy through higher trophic levels. A simple way to think of them is as the important intermediary that helps sunlight become salmon.
Many people are not aware that a large amount of the world's wild marine fish catch consists of these small fish. A study conducted a few years ago estimated that approximately 37% of that catch consists of forage fish. This figure has grown significantly. In the 1950s, these fish represented only 8% or so of the global catch. There is every reason to forecast an increase in interest in these fish. Of the forage fish catch, approximately 90% is ground up or reduced into fish meal and fish oil. Only 10% is directly consumed by humans.
It used to be believed that these fish were so resilient, numerous and productive that nothing we could do could ever harm them. My diagram shows a wood print from the Baltic Sea in the 1550s. The fish were believed to be so abundant that, if one threw an axe into their midst, it would stand upright. We now know that it is not true that these fish are not invulnerable. In fact, they are highly sensitive and vulnerable. Indeed, there have been spectacular collapses in forage fish populations around the world. I have listed some of them. Members may be familiar with the Peruvian anchovy collapse. There have been several collapses, but the main one was in 1972. At the time, the Peruvian anchovy species represented 10% of the world's catch but it vanished overnight.
For these reasons - the large catch, the crucial role in the ecosystem, the vulnerability and the collapses - there has been more interest in getting scientific input into whether these species should be managed differently due to their crucial role. I chaired the task force that was put together. Our objective was to try to arrive at consensual recommendations on how to manage these fish in a way that recognised their important ecological role. The committee has copies of our report, Little Fish, Big Impact, which we released with an executive summary last year.
In putting together this report, the task force met over a period of several years.
This was not just a short effort. We held workshops and made site visits to areas with important forage fisheries. We did undertook a number of reviews of existing information and advice, as well as case studies, and we recognised early on that there was a bit of science that would be useful in helping to guide management recommendations. This task force was therefore unique among task forces in that much of what we did was to develop new scientific information and methodologies.
In the case studies, we examined nine different areas with interesting lessons to learn but I will speak of just one to give an example of what we tried to do with the case studies. In the Barents Sea, with which the members may be familiar, there is a threshold for capelin. Prior to this time, there were heavy catches of capelin and stock collapsed but as importantly, the cod which fed on capelin followed suit. When the capelin went down the tubes, so did the cod. People realised that if they wanted healthy cod fisheries, they needed to leave enough capelin in the water to support them. Examining past data, it was determined that 200,000 tonnes of capelin left in the Barents Sea seemed like a good number in order to have enough to serve as prey for cod. There have not been any large collapses since and the cod fishery in the Barents Sea is now the healthiest in the world, which is amazing knowing how poor some of the cod stocks are around the world. That is a good example of why a minimum threshold or amount of forage fish biomass left in the water is such a key concept emerging from the task force, and members will see that repeated in many of the analyses and recommendations.
A completely new scientific study was spearheaded by two task force members and it examined the relationship between the reproductive success of seabirds and the forage fish on which they preyed. This is a very extensive study that considered seven marine ecosystems, 14 different seabird species and, altogether, more than 400 years of observation went into it. The researchers found that breeding success of seabirds declined when the forage fish on which they depended were also reduced in abundance. They concluded that we needed to leave approximately a third of the unfished biomass of forage fish in the water just for the birds. That paper was published in the journal Science, and it came out just before the task force report.
Another piece of science is an examination of what we call ecopath models, pulling together 72 of these food web models, and I will speak briefly about them. The idea of the map is to get a global representation of ecosystems in this analysis. The documentation has an example of a simplified version of a food web model. In the middle are forage fish and yellow arrows demonstrate how much forage fish are eaten by the species of predators around the central point. A normal food web model would be much more complicated and the arrows would go in every direction indicating how all the organisms interact. In this case we are showing how important forage fish are as prey.
This model is one of the 72 that were pulled together and relates to the northern Humboldt current off the Peru coast, which is an important Peruvian anchovy fishery. What struck me right away is that seabirds are highly dependent on forage fish in this ecosystem, over 90% of their diet consists of foraged fish. Additionally, other commercially important fish, such as tuna, salmon and mahi-mahi depend on forage fish for food.
Putting all these data and models together, we found that most ecosystems have predators that are highly dependent on forage fish, and these predators take a variety of forms from the likes of commercially and recreationally important fish to seabirds such as penguins and petrels, humpback whales and other marine mammals. We also find that the more the diet of a predator depended on forage fish, the more sensitive the species to a decline in forage fish. That makes sense and one might expect to see that result but the science bore it out. This again refers to the idea of a minimum biomass threshold, leaving enough of the foraged fish in the sea to meet the needs of the predators that depend on them, and that was really brought home to the task force.
We undertook an economic analysis of the importance of foraged fish and there are a number of unique aspects in this respect. Typically, when people speak about how important is a fish species economically, they examine the value of fish coming out the ocean and the landed or ex-vessel value. What is often ignored is the supportive value that these fish play by the fact that other commercially important fish feed upon forage fish, and when caught they also have a value. Some percentage of the fish value must be due to their feeding on the forage fish. We did a broad analysis, considering not only the value of forage fish but the value they contribute to the catches of other commercially important species globally. We have termed this the supportive value. We had no idea what the numbers would show and were quite surprised at the result.
The direct value of forage fish - the fish taken from the sea and get paid for immediately - is $5.6 billion per year globally, but the supportive value is twice as high at approximately $11 billion per year. Adding the components we are talking about a commercial fisheries production value of nearly $17 billion per year globally. These fish are worth twice as much left in the water as they are when taken in a net. This is the first time an analysis like this has been done and we will see more analyses like this as we start broadening our thinking about fisheries and not just looking at the value of taking things out of the water. We should consider the complete value. This economic value only takes into account the commercial fishing sector because that was the easiest route for us to take. It was important for us to do that work and we would be comparing "apples with apples". Nevertheless, a similar analysis could and should be done on the supportive role of these fish for recreational fisheries and eco-tourism activities, such as people who go to Antarctica to see penguins or whale watching. People can only partake in those activities because the forage fish are in the water to support those predators. What we have produced is a minimal estimate of the economic value of these forage fish.
We also did some more complex mathematics and although I will not go into detail, we compared two harvest strategies. One is a standard and quite similar to the Common Fisheries Policy that this country has just adopted for fish in general.
It is to set a fishing mortality rate equal to FMSY or the fishing mortality rate that would result in the maximum sustained yield of the target fish species. In our analysis we compared what happens if one fishes forage fish at this MSY conventional level with what happens if one fishes at a more precautionary level, fishing at only half of the FMSY value. There were also differences in how many fish were left in the sea at a minimum. By that we mean that if for any reason the fish population dropped below that level, fishing would cease. In the conventional scenario we said fishing would stop only when the population reached 20% of its unfished level and in the precautionary scenario we doubled that and said that if the population reached 40% of its unfished level, fishing would stop.
We are just comparing two different fishing strategies to see what happens. We are looking at what happens in three very different respects. The graph on the left shows what happened to the predators. With the conventional strategy, even though one might be getting close to maximum sustained yield of the target species, one is losing a fair percentage of the predators. The median loss was close to 30% for the conventional strategy. With the precautionary strategy, we still lost some predators and had some declines, but it was far less at closer to approximately 10% declines. One of the more interesting results was the middle result, the probability that the forage fish population would collapse. Using a conventional fishing strategy, there is a large percentage of the times that the population of the forage fish collapses. This is because these fish are very short lived and if anything goes wrong in one year or in a couple of years in a row, one will see a collapse. They tend to be vulnerable to collapse so when one fishes them near the limit of what they can withstand, they are much more likely to collapse than if one held back a little and fished them at a lower rate. In the precautionary scenario the probability of collapse was much reduced.
Finally, I will look at the yield or the biomass catch of forage fish. In the 100% or FMSY scenario we did not see a catch of the MSY and part of that is because of the frequency of collapses. When there is a collapse one is obviously not getting anything like what one could be getting. We had more catch in the conventional scenario of the target species, but not quite as much more as one might expect.
To conclude, what we recommended is that when looking at forage fish one should take a good look at the predators that depend on them. Take a good look not just at the sea birds and the marine mammals but also look carefully at the recreationally important and commercially important fish and be prepared to try to make room in the ocean for enough prey to feed these other important segments of the ecosystem. I did not have time to go into this a great deal but because forage fish and their predators tend to have a lot of alignment in space and time, we need to look at spatial and temporal management as something that would complement the quantitative measures. Overall, we recommended that forage fish catches should be cut in half relative to traditional fisheries management advice and that the amount of these fish left in the water should be double what is typically recommended. Not every situation is equivalent. There are many differences, so the management must be tailored to available information and to particular places.
With regard to the report, "Little Fish, Big Impact", and the task force that produced it, what we have done is to take a step towards ecosystem based management and to show how it can be done. If our advice is taken, there will be more benefits than the opposite. The benefits come in many different forms. One benefit is having ecosystems that are able to provide their traditional services and that maintain the integrity and support services of those ecosystems. In terms of the target fisheries for forage fish, because there will be far fewer collapses if this advice were taken, one would tend to see a much more stable and robust industry that would pursue these forage fish. It could be very good for the industry to have stability, predictability in the catches over time and not to have to deal with boom and bust cycles. Due to the important supportive role forage fish play in providing the food of other commercially valuable fish, such as cod, tuna and salmon, we would expect to see an increase in the value of these other commercially important fish on foot of taking on this advice for the forage fish.
I draw the committee's attention to how we have set up our recommendations. There is a big table in the executive summary which tries to spell out how one would be able to tailor the management based on how much is known about a particular situation. The idea here was to provide incentives for more knowledge. This is a strategy that makes sense. The more one knows, the more one can do and the risks one takes will not be as great when one is equipped with greater knowledge. We came up with what we call a three tiered precautionary approach to the management of forage fish. Basically, we recommend that if one does not know very much, one should not take many fish out of the water. If one knows a lot, not just about the target species but also about the ecosystem it inhabits and the inter-relationships within that ecosystem, one can take a more aggressive fishing policy.
That concludes the presentation. I will be happy to take questions.
Dr. Pikitch mentioned that 90% of forage fish is processed into feeds. Is there a case to be made to restrict the use of fish meal in the production of animal feed, for example, as a conservation measure to reduce fishing effort on forage fish? It might have some benefit in sustaining the stocks.
With regard to the Humboldt Current slide showing the predators that depend on the forage fish, mackerel are 62% dependent. Would the same level of dependency on forage fish apply across the world to Atlantic mackerel stocks? Over the last years there have been very severe restrictions on herring fishing around the coast of Ireland. It coincided with increases in TAC levels for mackerel. Would there be a direct correlation there? The science is probably not available yet to say that, but I wondered about it and whether there might be some merit in that as Dr. Pikitch gave her presentation.
In the case of the mathematical probability slide, Dr. Pikitch spoke about the three scenarios. I presume they are all inter-related in terms of their outcomes. In the case of the probability of collapse if one is aiming for the precautionary system, would that have a knock-on effect?
Perhaps the level of decline in predators could be less than 11% or is it that they are all found together?
I refer to the maximum sustainable yield. From what Dr. Pikitch stated in her presentation, it is probably defined incorrectly. Given that the Common Fisheries Policy is aiming towards sustaining a maximum sustainable yield for the next ten years, or for as long as the policy is in place, does it mean that EU policy is way behind the curve in terms of what needs to be done?
Dr. Ellen Pikitch:
The list is getting long and I will forget the questions, even though I am taking notes.
On the Deputy's first question on whether a conservation case could be made about 90% of forage fish being used for fish meal and fish oil and only 10% being available for direct consumption, I do not think it is a conservation issue but a food security one. The task force decided to draw the line and give advice on the number of forage fish it was safe to take out of the sea in terms of protection of the ecosystem. We stopped there. On what one does with the fish after that, there are a lot of very important questions, but as a task force, we decided not to go there in terms of making recommendations. We reiterated several times in the report that there was a food security issue because much of the fish meal was given for aquaculture and livestock production. There is a conversion ratio - to produce 1 lb of farmed salmon it takes 3 lb to 5 lb of forage fish. One is taking 3 lb to 5 lb of perfectly edible fish to turn it into 1 lb of edible fish; therefore, there is a net ecological loss of food as a result of the way the product is being used. That is something which needs attention.
I thank Dr. Pikitch for an illustrative and very informative presentation. As somebody who does not have a great knowledge of fisheries, a sector on which she has expounded, I would like to ask a couple of questions. How important a role do forage fish play in the ecosystem? Will Dr. Pikitch outline the main predators that cause concern? In terms of conventional management and maintaining the maximum sustainable yield, I am somewhat confused. What are the best management approaches to achieve conventional management of forage fish? Will Dr. Pikitch explain the underlying objective which can be achieved by raising the floor in terms of biomass? What role does she see for fisheries monitoring and enforcement in achieving the objectives she set out in the complex three-tiered diagram, for example, limiting fish numbers to half the conventional rate? How does she believe this can be achieved? It is fine to have an objective, but enforcement in order to attain it is extremely important in the overall context of trying to set out what she has achieved in her scientific analysis. I would be grateful if she could try to address these questions.
Dr. Ellen Pikitch:
It is hard to count fish because one cannot see them and they do not stay still. It is not like counting trees in the forest. It has always been a difficult thing to do. I am not sure it is any more difficult to count the number of forage fish as it is to count the number of any other kind of fish in the sea. It is a similar problem with which fisheries scientists and managers deal all the time. There are many ways to do it and we have techniques. I do not know if that is a very satisfactory answer, but I do not think it is an extra special problem in the case of forage fish. Fisheries management requires that one knows something about how many fish are in the sea. Is that fair?
That is the nucleus of the report and that answer is amorphous. If Dr. Pikitch sets out that this is a very important aspect in trying to achieve the objectives of the report, surely there is in place a monitoring system which is overarching so as to achieve these objectives. This appears to be important in terms of the conventional yield and ensuring there is the biomass for predators and intermediary species. As Dr. Pikitch said, the counting can be done, but how often should it be done to achieve the objectives identified?
Dr. Ellen Pikitch:
One really needs to take at least annual measurements. There is a need for annual monitoring. Let me give some examples to show how it is done. I do not want to stick to one method only because some methods are better for certain species. For example, one method that is used a lot in the California current region involves looking at egg production because the species concerned produce a lot of eggs which tend to float to the surface. One can take a net and count the number of eggs produced. That gives one a pretty good idea of how many spawning fish there are. This method has been used a lot in the case of sardines off the Pacific coast of the United States. With some species, one can use acoustic methodologies which is a fairly straightforward way of looking at biomass over time. When one cannot use these methodologies, one must go with the standard fisheries assessment methods whereby one make some catches to get the age composition. One has to have a model to put it all together. These fish are more amenable to some of the acoustic and egg production methods than many other species. It actually could be easier to monitor them.
Dr. Pikitch outlined the historical collapses in California, Peru, Namibia and Japan. How long does recovery take and under what conditions does it occur? Dr. Pikitch outlined the differences between a conventional and a precautionary approach. In what area would the precautionary approach have to be adopted for it to be beneficial? For example, could Ireland, within a six or a 12 mile zone, adopt a precautionary approach, or would it have any impact? Would it have to be adopted within a 200 mile zone to have an impact? If it did have an impact, where would it occur? If one were to take a precautionary approach within a certain zone, would there be an impact in that zone or would it occur elsewhere? Would we need an EU-wide approach for there to be any impact or benefit?
Dr. Ellen Pikitch:
The big collapse in the Peruvian anchovy fishery occurred in 1972 and it took about ten years for the stock to recover to its former level of abundance.
These species tend to be short-lived. They only have a few age classes but they are very prolific. They put out a lot of eggs. If the environmental conditions are good, then because they put out so many eggs, there can be a quick recovery. Recovery after that first big collapse took about ten years. What is interesting is that many of the species that depended on the Peruvian anchovy have still not recovered following the 1972 collapse. The sea birds, marine mammals and some of the bigger, longer-lived fish that depended upon those anchovies do not have the same capacity to bounce back quickly. Therefore, the predator populations, in many cases, are still depleted. In the report we go into that case study in a lot more depth. Essentially it is a situation where there was a recovery of the target species but we were left with an impoverished ecosystem. Therefore, it is a win in only a limited sense.
Namibia is a different story altogether where there was a collapse but no recovery. That has led to a lot of changes to the ecosystem overall. One cannot necessarily predict that there will be a recovery or how long it will take.
Dr. Ellen Pikitch:
Part of the explanation is that those who were fishing did not back off in the way they did in Peru. When we had the big collapse in Peru in 1972, it captured world attention. The best and the brightest from around the world were brought together in a big huddle because it was 10% of the world catch. This was a big deal. Measures were taken right away to reduce fishing and give the population every chance of bouncing back. That did not happen in Namibia. It is a very different place and it is hard to say if that is the only reason.
My other question related to where one would have to set the limits. Would it have to be EU-wide, would it have to be a ten, 20 or 50 mile zone and, if so, where would the benefits be felt? Would it require an EU-wide approach to work?
Dr. Ellen Pikitch:
I must apologise for not being an expert on your local waters. I cannot really answer that specific question but I can give some examples from the United States which might be pertinent. The blunt answer to the question is, 'it depends'. I know people do not like those kinds of answers but that is the truth. If there is a forage fish that lives very close to shore and the species that feed upon it also live very close to shore, then it could be done within Irish waters, for example. In the United States we tend to look at it in terms of within state waters, federal waters or the exclusive economic zone, EEZ. Populations of menhaden, or bunker, an important group of fish, are managed by the individual states because they only go out to about three miles off shore. I do not know what the limits are here in terms of miles off shore.
Dr. Ellen Pikitch:
The are two different menhaden populations - an Atlantic one and a Gulf one - and both are managed within state waters because the bulk of the population is within three miles of the coastline. The species that feed upon them and that are important and of concern also tend to live pretty close to shore. That illustrates that if Ireland has species like the menhaden, although I am not familiar with the Irish species, it can take small-scale, close to shore measures and adopt a policy that would work. In other cases, for example, with Krill in the Antarctic, one could not really do that because Krill is basically the forage species for everything in the Antarctic and the area is huge. One would need a more comprehensive policy for much bigger spatial areas. It is definitely worth looking into the life history and spatial distribution of the fish in Ireland.
I welcome the witness and apologise for missing the beginning of her presentation. I am not a member of this committee but am very pleased to attend this meeting. Dr. Pikitch spoke about the fact that with forage fish species, collapses can occur relatively quickly. We tend to classify forage fish in this country as pelagic species.
Pelagic species and demersal species are under different regimes and management systems. We saw a collapse in what is known as the Celtic Sea herring fishery on the south and east coasts of this country. After approximately ten years of careful management, that fishery has recovered well. Ten years is reasonably quick for a fishery to recover. Can Dr. Pikitch give some indication as to what inhibits forage fisheries. They recover very quickly. I presume most of them are plankton feeders.
Dr. Ellen Pikitch:
Other than fishing, the biggest factor is the environment. These fish are broadcast spawners. They put their eggs and sperm out in the water and they have to find each other. Then they have settle in an area where the environmental conditions are good so that once those embryos hatch, they have plankton to feed on. They must end up in the right places, where there is a good supply of plankton to feed upon. A lot of things can go wrong in that process and there is not a lot we can do about that, unfortunately. That is part of the problem. The environment is fluctuating and is unpredictable. Some years are fabulous and we get really strong recruitment while other years are not good. By keeping more of these fish in the water, what we are doing is maintaining a safe level and a multi-aged structure. We are basically keeping enough fish around so that one bad year does not completely damage the population. In some of the species that have collapsed, individual fish might live for between two to five years. A population that has all three-to-five year classes present is a much more stable population than one where we are fishing out almost all of the production every year and the population is down to only one age class. Such a population is much more vulnerable to collapse.
We have almost concluded negotiations at an EU level on our Common Fisheries Policy. Much of the scientific information from Ireland comes from the Irish Marine Institute based in Galway, which is fed into the ICES committee and then onto the European Commission. It is at that point that it becomes political. On this very day, an issue has arisen with the Governments of the Faroe Islands and Iceland with respect to the north-east Atlantic mackerel fishery. Those countries have increased their exploitation of that fishery by a factor of ten. One can gather the scientific data but the decisions on what to do, ultimately, are political.
The case is often made in Ireland that most of our fisheries exploitation is of demersal species and when those fisheries collapse, they are gone for generations.
We can exploit the pelagic species while taking into consideration issues like maximum sustainable yield, monitoring stocks and so forth. It also takes the pressure off in terms of the exploitation of demersal species. Pelagic fish are also much quicker to recover.
In my opinion the Marine Institute provides more information on pelagic stocks that we fish, species such as herring, mackerel, tuna, boarfish, sprat and horse mackerel. They take the pressure from the demersal species. Does Dr. Pikitch have an opinion on that option as a political strategy?
I have listened to the scientific experts. We are facing cuts in the next year in the total allowable catch of demersal fish of between 60% and 70% based on scientific advice. If one were to make a choice on the species of fish one would exploit, would it be more appropriate to consider the pelagic sector? We have more information and we have a greater knowledge of the impact of exploitation on the pelagic sector. The stock levels of demersal fish around our waters are under severe threat.
I am aware the Commission is considering significant increases in mackerel quota, but I suspect that is a political issue based on today's discussion.
Dr. Ellen Pikitch:
Let me try to address the point the Deputy is making. Nothing that I have said states, "Do not fish the pelagic fish." We are not saying, "Do not fish them." However, our message is that they should not be fished as hard as conventional fisheries management strategies would have recommended in the past. That is good advice. We are saying go ahead and fish the species but do it in a way that will result in more robust pelagic species which will mean the industry with be less prone to collapse. One does not want the pelagic fisheries to go between boom and bust. One wants people to be able to make a living and count on it year in and year out. That is a good reason to be a little more careful and to fish less hard on that group of fish than conventional guidance would have you do in the past.
The stock of some species of demersal fish is very depleted but they can recover. I hope they will recover and with the new Common Fisheries Policy coming into effect, some of the demersal fish species can recover as quickly as the pelagic stocks. I can give examples of what happened in the US with species of fish I am familiar with. There was a five-year moratorium on fishing striped bass in the United States and this brought the species back. They are now as abundant as they ever have been. In regard to swordfish, it took international negotiations to get a ten-year rebuilding plan agreed to at ICCAT, with which I am sure members are familiar.
The North Atlantic swordfish populations have recovered and that was achieved in ten years. More recently we have had an issue with the summer flounder, which are very important demersal fish, not only as a commercial but sport fish. The summer flounder numbers were very depressed but they have recovered.
These other species will recover and as they recover they will need to eat. They are going to be hungry. One will have to leave enough of the pelagic species. I do not think one needs to stop fishing. We are just saying, to be more careful and in the long run one will have more fish to catch, one will have a more robust industry and healthier ecosystems. One will make more money too.
Dr. Ellen Pikitch:
There are lots of different kinds of mackerel in the world. Deputy Pringle asked earlier about the ones in the Humboldt current compared to the ones who are a very different species and have different diets. Our approach is that if a species feeds on plankton its whole life and serves this crucial role during its entire lifecycle, then it is a forage fish, but if it only does it for part of its life it is not. That does not mean one would not want to look at some of these species where for part of their life, they are very important prey species and take a good hard look at them too. We had to be practical when undertaking the task. We had to make decisions on the cut-off points. That was the definition we adopted. The same principles apply. Anything that is really important as food in the ocean is something we should be looking at carefully.
I thank Dr. Pikitch for the presentation. We have learned a great deal from it. I do not come from a fishing county or have a fishing background but what we have learned is very interesting. The important message is the balance of the ecosystem. Something that did not come up at this session but came up earlier this morning is that it is very important to protect the indigenous small fishery families that depend on doing a small bit of fishing around the coast.
Do all fish graze or forage on other fish? I suppose naturally enough they depend on other fish, but do they all depend on other small fish to forage on?
Are we behind the curve now in talking about the maximum sustainable yield, MSY, as this appears to be the case from the report? Should the maximum sustainable yield be redefined as to the precautionary level that Dr. Pikitch spoke about? What is the attitude at EU level to the report?
Dr. Ellen Pikitch:
The Deputy has just taken a deep breadth as he is worried about what I might say.
I really do think the Deputy should take a deep breath and you should congratulate yourselves on taking a big step forward with the Common Fisheries Policy. This is a major step forward in terms of progress. That is important. Rome was not built in a day and the Common Fisheries Policy will evolve over time. I think one can incorporate this advice. I do not understand all the processes, but perhaps it is possible to make an amendment specifically for forage fish. One might want to do that. I wonder if one can do so without having to revisit all the other questions again. This is pretty new science with new recommendations in the report. When the campaign to try to reform the Common Fisheries Policy started, we did not have this kind of advice. In fact when the taskforce started, we did not have so many of the studies that I have talked about today. It would be good if members could find a way to incorporate it in an amendment.
In the United States, we have already seen one state, the State of California, adopt these recommendations almost immediately for its policy on forage fish. It has a specific policy that applies only to forage fish and not to other species. It had not had one before. It was good timing. The State of California had already decided that forage fish were so critically important that the state should have a policy specifically for that group of fish. It had been working on it and then the report came out, which had everything it needed. The state recognised the report had everything it needed and adopted it.
I had an opportunity to talk at the European Parliament in Brussels last year. I thought the conversation was very productive. Many people had an interest in seeing the benefits of this approach. One might have had concerns when one first heard we might be talking about reduced catches, but then one would realise we were talking about a global fishery that is more valuable. I think people were happy to hear about this and wanted it to be taken in. I have been on the talks circuit around the world for the last year and a half. In many cases, I was asked directly by management authorities to speak with them because they are interested in trying to apply these principles to their particular cases. I have spoken to such bodies at state and regional management council levels. I spoke to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization at last year's meeting of the Committee on Fisheries after a group of UN ambassadors who are interested in fisheries asked me to speak at global level. I think this is really taking hold. It is not too late.
The ultimate adoption by the EU of maximum sustainable yields in the context of the Common Fisheries Policy will go a long way towards dealing with some of these issues. That is welcome. The market is driven by consumer sentiment. If the market demands anchovy, sardinella or menhaden, a way will be found to facilitate that. Has Dr. Pikitch done any work on that side of the process to inform consumers of the dangers that exist and the fisheries that are under threat?
Dr. Ellen Pikitch:
I would not say there has been an awareness campaign per se. It could be a good idea to try to undertake such a campaign. The work that has been done has concentrated on the fate of the fish after they have been taken out of the water; for example, 90% of fish are being ground up rather than eaten. The fish that are consumed directly by people are generally more valuable - a higher price per pound is paid for them than for the fish that are ground up into fish meal and fish oil. It would be good for economics and for food security if a greater percentage of fish could be shifted to direct human consumption rather than being ground up into fish meal and fish oil. I am aware that efforts are being made in that regard. There has been a campaign in Peru to make people aware that it is okay to eat anchovies directly and to emphasise that anchovies are delicious. The authorities there have found it helpful to bring in chefs to show how to prepare anchovies in delicious new ways. The people who have been encouraged to taste this product have agreed that it tastes really good. Some people do not want to eat anchovies directly because they think they do not taste good, but they do. More and more work is being done in that regard.
I thank Dr. Pikitch for contributing to an interesting and informative discussion on this topic. As I do not come from a coastal area, I am not familiar with this aspect of the fisheries sector. I thank Dr. Pikitch and the other witnesses for their attendance at this morning's meeting and for the presentations they made.