An Executive Council paper released to today outlines damning observations of the Falkland Islands Fisheries Department by UK consultants MacAlister Elliott and Partners Limited (MEP) in their Independent Review of the current management of Falkland Islands finfish fisheries July 2020.

The Falkland Islands Government has responded by approving, “a range of actions and recommendations to help identify future management strategies, implementation priorities, and improved governance and operational approaches in order to help support the profitable and sustainable development of Falkland Islands fisheries, in particular the finfish fishery,” noted a press release today.

Observations made in the report include, “a lack of government and corporate policy with respect to fisheries,” there is no up-to-date fisheries policy in place it notes.

It suggests there is no formal consultation process, “There is also an acknowledgement that there is a high degree of subjectivity in the decision-making processes which means individual personalities could make non-transparent decisions, or that there could be ambiguity in direction.”

Another comment is, “It is not clear how FIFD and fisheries management in FIG engages with the environmental policy agenda, particularly around the proposed Marine Management Areas (MMAs) and Marine Spatial Planning (MSP), which are currently seen as a threat by the fishing industry.”

The report also indicates that scientific advice is not always seen to be free from political interference.

Another criticism is: “FIG’s objective for fish resources is a combination of ecological and economic implications, but monitoring currently seems biased towards the former. However, performance of both is critical if FIG is to achieve its goals.”

On shared resources it notes: “With regards the straddling stocks that are shared between the Falklands, Argentina and Chile, the lack of international cooperation over these shared stocks comprising the FI finfish fishery is one of the most constraining factors to sustainable ecological and economic management of the finfish fishery. It is also likely to have disastrous outcomes; a prediction supported by the current status of many, although not all, of the finfish stocks.”

In terms of the scientific programme it noted a “relatively small proportion of the function and its activities are dedicated to finfish.”

MEP recommend that FIFD should carry out an assessment of whether resource levels and their allocation are fit for purpose, and any gaps that are identified – both generally and specifically for finfish fisheries management.

MEP recommended the roles and responsibilities of the Fisheries Science function “be reviewed in light of the FIFD objectives and future Fisheries Policy, and that a new, repurposed Resource Assessment function be defined, which is focused on the scientific assessment of stock statuses and collection of survey data, to inform harvesting advice. This function should send information and advice to the aforementioned Fisheries Management function.”

The criticisms are lengthy: “MEP identified some potential inconsistencies between the evidence requirements for development of finfish stock assessments and the objectives, goals and tasks of the Scientific Programme.”

It also notes there are only limited formal governance mechanisms to hold the science team accountable for the delivery of the programme either to the FIFD or government.

It also indicates it doesn’t engage well with other parts of the department such as FISHOPS or other organisations such as Falklands Conservation or SAERI as shown by there being little alignment with their research programmes or scientific programmes.

In terms of stock assessment MEP recommended that firstly FIG develop a policy framework regarding an acceptable level of sustainability. They also recommend a large change in stock assessment framework and reporting processes, across all finfish stocks. It is noted in the ExCo paper that work had already begun on this.

MEP also had significant concerns about control and enforcement strategy. It noted: “The risks of non-compliance, especially those arising from catch reporting inside and outside the Falkland Islands zone, unrecorded discarding, further compounded by low verification of catches, discarding and transhipment of fish caught in FI waters, may well imperil attempts at sustainable finfish fisheries management, including stock recovery.”

Many other observations are made.

The Falkland Islands Government’s response

The Falkland Islands Government has responded positively and proactively to the observations and agreed to the following actions according to today’s press release

  • The development of a modern fit-for-purpose fisheries policy, business plan and scientific programme
  • Improved institutional capacity by creating appropriate management structures and securing the resources required to enable delivery
  • A reform of finfish stock management processes, including a review of the licensing structure
  • Improved control and enforcement

Dr Andrea Clausen, Director for Natural Resources, said: “We very much welcome this independent review of our finfish fishery; it has provided a comprehensive assessment which includes acknowledgement that most of our finfish stocks straddle political boundaries which has resulted in challenges for the sustainable management, given the continued lack of international cooperation.

“However, the solutions and actions that have been suggested, and which are within our gift even as a small island nation, will provide us with a critical framework through which we can deliver a range of improvements, such as strengthening our operational management function and governance approach, both of which will support to the sustainable ecological and economic management of this vital resource.

“We are already very proud of what we have been able to accomplish and how our fisheries have evolved over time, however we also know that there is more that we can do and areas which should be given a higher priority, such as ensuring that the provision of future scientific and data-driven advice for resource status and sustainable catches. The recommendations which ExCo has approved will build on the brilliant work already done in this department, and will serve to further strengthen our operations over time.”

L Watson