Winner, Seafood Champion Awards Innovation Category

David Stevens

While many fishers consider the E.U. Common Fisheries Policy discard ban to be challenging, the family-owned Crystal Sea Fishing’s philosophy is simple: embrace change, work in partnership, and pave the way for others to follow. Crystal Sea Fishing proactively entered into partnership with the UK fisheries agency to take part in discard reduction trials where they documented their fishing, allowed cameras on board, and tested different gear. When that gear did not meet standards, they worked to change the regulations.

David Stevens on boatThrough Captain David Stevens’ ingenuity and perseverance he was able to reduce his discards to less than 0.1%. David is now catching fewer, bigger haddock and fetching a higher market value, demonstrating that greater efficiency of operations and ability to long term plan leads to improved livelihoods, higher quality seafood and more sustainable fisheries. David’s story is already inspiring fishers, fishing representatives, policy makers, scientists and civil society to believe sustainable seafood can be achieved in EU fisheries.

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As a result of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) reform, the European Union is committed to ending over fishing by 2020. Providing sustainable seafood and maintaining robust livelihoods for coastal communities sits alongside the priority of environmental health in the EU seas. Perhaps the biggest challenge to come out of the new CFP is the discard ban. While industry, national administrations and other stakeholders are grappling with how to meet the new regulation there are a few, rare examples of fishermen taking action to be agents of their own change and lead the way in defining new ways of operating to meet this challenging obligation.

David Stevens is one such example. David comes from a long line of fishermen and has been fishing for nearly 20 years. He is skipper of the Crystal Sea, fishing primarily for haddock with his brother Alec. The key challenge for David, and other fishermen in Europe, is how to maintain a viable business while supporting his crew of 5 under the newly enacted discard ban. David’s philosophy is simple; embrace change, work in partnership, and pave the way for others to follow.

David Stevens' boat, Crystal SeaWhen the discard ban was at an embryonic stage in European policy circles, David proactively entered into partnership with the UK fisheries agency to take part in discard reduction trials. The trial required David to fully document his fishing in exchange for a small increase in haddock quota. David allowed cameras on his boat so the agency could monitor his activities and after years of testing different gear innovations he found the best configurations to avoid and reduce discarding of juvenile haddock and other unwanted species. Through David’s ingenuity and perseverance he was able to reduce his discards to less than 0.1%, demonstrating his commitment to the sustainability and viability of his fishery as well as proving that reducing discards was achievable.

David is now catching fewer, bigger haddock and fetching a higher market value. He is fully accountable for his activities and by ensuring the right incentives were in place (assurance of quota that allowed him to plan his activities better over longer periods of time) he was able to make important investments to make the trial successful. David also negotiated – in partnership with the UK fisheries agency – an essential derogation in the EU technical rules that would have made his highly successful gear modifications illegal had they not been amended. He successfully secured these derogations at the highest European scientific level where the outcomes of the trial are now being used to influence national and European policy thinking. He has recently committed to making his fishery 100% discard free ahead of the demersal landing obligation regulation coming into effect in January 2016.

David deserves this award because he represents what needs to happen for fishermen across Europe to make the discard ban work both in practice and in law, while demonstrating that his experience can be adopted and scaled to other fisheries both in the UK and elsewhere in Europe.

What local and/or international partners does David Stevens work with?

In addition to working alongside his fishing peers, David is a member of the Cornish Fish Producer Organization (CFPO) and a member of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations (NFFO). He has partnered with the fisheries enforcement agency and the UK fisheries administration to set up the trials. More recently he has partnered with the UK scientific agency where trials are being taken forward to help validate his assessments on juvenile haddock year classes. We expect to formalize our own partnership with David in the coming months (by 2016).

How well does David Stevens and his work demonstrate the qualities of the category?

David has not waited to be told, or to have regulations ‘translated’ and implemented – he has shown immense vision by proactively seeking to understand the policies under discussion, how they play out on the water and how they impact his business (and thus the business of others) – he understands what it means to be part of the solution. Within this he has also seen the opportunity to improve his (and therefore others) business by reshaping the parameters so that greater efficiency of operations and ability to long term plan leads to improved livelihoods, higher quality seafood and more sustainable fisheries.

In what ways has David Stevens positively affected, or mitigated negative impacts of, the seafood industry?

It is essential that retailers, processors and consumers are able to buy seafood from sustainable sources. Fisheries operating under high discards are marked as unsustainable by the EU and by 2019 fisheries with discards will be illegal. David is able to provide assurances to regulators and the industry that seafood can be obtained from a fishery where negative impacts associated with unsustainable fishing are mitigated through improved gear selectivity, in turn leading to greater efficiency and a higher quality product. He is now extending his experience and encouragement to help other fishermen provide responsibly fished, high quality seafood.

In what way could David Steven’s story inspire others and communicate successes achieved in sustainable seafood?

David’s story is already inspiring fishermen, fishing representatives, policy makers, scientists and civil society to believe sustainable seafood can be achieved in EU fisheries. He has presented at the UK Discard Action Group as well as to hundreds of attendees at an EU-funded symposium on fisheries co-management. However, Environmental Defense Fund would like to see David’s story elevated to actively influence the EU policy process. We would also like to create more opportunities for David to further inspire other fishermen in achieving the paradigm shift needed for the discard ban to work effectively.

How would David Stevens’ work serve as a replicable model for others who want to have a similar impact?

While neither Environmental Defense Fund nor David support a ‘one size fits all’ solution, we are in agreement that his experience demonstrates key principles that can be applied to other fisheries both in the UK and across Europe. The core of the trials included sound partnership working, creating positive incentives, and building trust with scientists and enforcers. These are universal principles in fisheries management and could be scaled up as a model of best practice elsewhere. This is already starting to happen where fishermen are keen to learn how they can apply lessons from David’s experience to their own fishery.

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Quote

“It is a good thing that the Seafood Champion Awards are there, so that people can look at what we’ve done and say hey, I can do this. And hopefully it will inspire people to make the same choices in different areas and push themselves, take those challenges and improve the fishery.”—David Stevens

Remarks from David Stevens on Being Named Finalist

I would really like to emphasise that the work we were nominated for is very much a team effort of Crystal Sea fishing. Our vessel is the Crystal Sea SS 118 and my brother and I skipper the boat with a crew of four others. The work we undertake is very much a team effort, from the gear innovations to working of the catch and data gathering.

The work we do is continuous we are constantly striving to improve our fishing gear and adapt to whatever our fishery presents ourselves with.

This is not always easy and we have had to overcome many challenges on the way to achieving a fully documented fishery. We are still a long way in the EU from a perfect situation regarding policy matching the fishery. However, we believe that by undertaking the work and adopting a collaborative approach, with managers (UK Marine Management Organisation), scientists (International Council for Exploration of the Seas, Scientific Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries, Centre for Environment Fisheries and Aquaculture Science) and Policy makers (EU commission), this can be achieved; and by using the cameras to encourage us to react and then measure the differences we make by voluntarily collecting the data for the MMO (who then interpret that data for the scientists to use)  this helps form policy.

I believe if we are able to roll this method out across the whole industry we could create are very reactive, stakeholder-inclusive and sustainable fishery, as long as the policy makers understand the changes they need to make so the policy is more in line with the fishery. In return, policy makers, scientists, and the public (consumers) will have the trust in knowing that the fishery they are purchasing from and supporting is FDF (fully documented fishery) by using CCTV (Remote Electronic Monitoring equipment).

As an industry, we must see REM equipment as less of a control measure and more of a tool to improve the fishery, delivering on sensible policy and adding valuable data to the science. Most importantly is to reverse the burden of proof—to back up what we seeing on the grounds with real time data evidence.

An Interview with David Stevens of Crystal Sea Fishing

Cornwall Wildlife Trust Interviews David Stevens

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