Sustainable Fisheries: impact assessment

This impact assessment looks back at an audit of the sustainability of plaice and sole fishing we carried out in 2008. The audit had considered the catch quota policy and its enforcement, and innovation in the fishing industry. We assessed what follow-up had been given to the recommendations we had made in 2008 and the state of the cutter fishing fleet in 2012.


Follow-up to the recommendations made in 2008

We made several recommendations to the Minister of Agriculture, Nature Management and Fisheries in 2008 that she followed up in broad lines. She developed a long-term strategy for the fishing industry, for example, and improved the coordination of the fisheries and nature management policy fields. The minister also contributed to the clear agreements reached at EU Level on effective enforcement of catch quotas. Furthermore, she took the measures agreed to encourage innovation in the fishing industry. The policy to reduce by-catches and discards is still not clear but systematic procedures have been introduced to manage plaice and sole stocks in the North Sea in accordance with the Maximum Sustainable Yield standard, under which fish catches may not exceed the increase in fish stocks.

State of the cutter fishing industry in 2012

The playing field of the government and the fishing industry has changed in recent years. Responsibility for the sustainability of the cutter fishing fleet is borne more widely within the industry and there is greater recognition of the importance of innovation. Improvements in fishing techniques were initially encouraged by the government but initiatives are now also being taken by the industry itself.

A significant development has been the emergence of fish quality labels. Private quality labels, such as that of the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), were of only marginal significance in 2008 but are now an interesting financial option for the cutter fleet operators. MSC standards have been of mutual benefit to both the government and certified operators. Fishing companies wanting to be certified, for example, stand to benefit from the sustainable management of fish stocks and effective government enforcement. Certified operators must also use equipment that avoids by-catches wherever possible and minimises the death of by-catches.

The quotas on plaice and sole catches have been tightened up in recent years. Plaice stocks in the North Sea returned to the desired level sooner than expected.

Catch quotas are enforced by the Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NVWA). Its enforcement capacity was reduced by spending cuts in 2008 and 2009 but has been stable since 2010. New European regulations have given the NVWA additional tasks and thus exerted even greater pressure on its inspections of the fisheries. It is uncertain whether its risk-based approach to enforcement will make up for the reduction in capacity. The law cannot be enforced without effective controls and self-regulation by the industry itself is not a solution. This is demonstrated by the many infringements of the rules on the engine capacity of the fishing fleet. We drew this conclusion in 2008 and we draw it again now.

In our opinion, the government must take top down measures to reduce the volume of discards and unwanted by-catches. Although the problem of by-catches is a priority in Dutch fisheries and biodiversity policy, measures have still not been taken. Some progress has been made, however, with the prevention of by-catches. Innovative fishing techniques has reduced the volume of unwanted by-catches.


We recommend that the State Secretary for Economic Affairs (EZ) work with the fishing industry and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to further strengthen the sustainability of the fisheries. The government should also draw on the know-how and experience of NGOs and certified operators to tackle the problem of unwanted by-catches. In our opinion, the state secretary must continue to use the most successful instrument to reduce unwanted by-catches: innovation in the fishing industry. Finally, we recommend that the state secretary investigate and monitor the functioning of risk-based enforcement that uses electronic tools.


The State Secretary for EZ responded positively to our conclusions and recommendations. She is considering having cutter fleet engines certified so that fraud is no longer possible. The state secretary agrees with the European Commission that the problem of discards and unwanted by-catches must be addressed by means of a landing obligation.