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Interview with Joël Vigneau

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Before starting, a brief introduction of the protagonist of this interview.

I am Joël Vigneau, senior fisheries scientist at Ifremer in Normandy (France) and coordinator of the Fishn’Co project. In my career I’ve been involved in both the data collection and its usage for management advice in organisations like ICES, GFCM and NAFO. In the world of fisheries data collection, it’s been a long journey since 2002 through ICES technical working groups, development of a R library for preparing the data to stock assessment, participating and chairing RCM and now RCGs. In the most recent years, I have been mandated by RCG NANS&EA and Baltic to lead the sub-group on Regional Work Plans and this sub-group collectively responded to the call for proposals MARE/2020/08 for Strengthening Regional Cooperation in the area of fisheries data collection. We put together the Fishn’Co project proposal during the summer 2020, which is ongoing since January 2021 and will be running for 24 months.

At the moment the approach to the organization and planning of fisheries data collection is being addressed from a national perspective but the aim of Fishn’Co and the EC is to promote a shift towards a regionally coordinated approach. Why does it represent an important progress since the setup of the Regional Coordination Groups? Why is it expected beneficial?

In a given region, the monitoring of the fisheries and other marine natural resources is to be eventually combined among all countries for analysis and in support of management advice. The natural scope of the data resides within the regional boundaries rather than national. Monitoring at a national scale is not an error or a source of bias, it is simply sub-optimal in its implementation. Moreover, the Regional Work Plan is an opportunity to reinforce and systematizing all types of coordination activities starting from sharing good practices, establishing common sampling protocols, definitions of variables and going up to populating regional databases and for the more advanced initiatives, designing a regional sampling plan. The benefits for each of the participating Member States is to enhance their own technical capacity in a structured expert networking and the benefits for the end-users consist in more robust data and better estimates from a regionally optimized sampling plan.

As we observe, the scope of the Regional Coordination Groups (RCG) that form part of this project is defined under different criteria, some of them cover a delimited geographical area while others are transversal or geographically broader. How is Fishn’Co dealing with the interaction and collaborative work among them?  and what are the main difficulties to overcome due to their different scope or to other differences?

Fishn’Co has succeeded in putting together experts from all the thematic areas of the EU-MAP regulation and from all regions, except for the Mediterranean and Black Sea which is being addressed by a similar project (STREAMLINE) with similar purposes. The identity of approach is the thematic focus area (TFA).  There are ten TFAs being addressed by Fishn’Co: small scale fisheries; diadromous species; recreational fisheries; commercial fisheries; biological data quality; social and economic data on fisheries; social and economic data on aquaculture; incidental catches of protected, endangered and threatened species; impact of fishing activities, and research surveys at sea. The region becomes the implementation area where practical case studies can be developed. One of the difficulties comes with the definition of the scope for the RCG which is not always related to a geographic area, e.g., RCG on Economic issues (trans-regional within the EU), RCG Long Distance Fisheries (reaching regions beyond the EU) and RCG Large Pelagics (overlapping with all regions). Fishn’Co is the place to resolve the coordination difficulties and propose solutions since not only experts from these RCGs are participating but also co-chairing Fishn’Co Work Packages and thus, taking the lead for some of the project main outcomes.  

Can you please explain, for someone who is not familiar with the ISSGs, how the operational dynamics of the Intersessional Subgroups (ISSG) is? How is Fishn’Co combining its efforts with the ISSGs?

Inter-Sessional Sub-Groups (ISSG) receive a mandate by RCGs to develop regional coordination for their thematic area of competence. Fishn’Co will not interfere with their coordinating initiatives but will help in three ways, (i) gathering the elements of their coordination which can be part of a Regional Work Plan, (ii) proposing a common approach for the description of activities throughout all ISSGs and (iii) proposing a common approach to the quality documentation of their proposals. Therefore, there is a very clear separation of mandates between ISSGs and Fishn’Co.  

What is the main achievement so far for Fishn’Co and which lessons or tips could you share so far from leading such an ambitious challenge as building coordinated regional work-plans?

Fishn’Co was launched in January 2021, its effective work for developing the Regional Work Plans began by late March, which left very short room to propose contents for a Regional Work Plan in the RCG summer sessions. However, Fishn’Co succeeded in presenting coordinated materials for each of the thematic focus areas addressed by the project, presenting Regional Work Plan forms (for text and tables) and beginning the discussions on the rules and mechanisms attached to the Regional Work Plan decision processes. At the moment, it’s all a baseline for progress for next year but Fishn’Co managed already to propose two Regional Work Plans (one for the North Atlantic, North Sea and Eastern Arctic RCG and one for the Baltic RCG) as a non-binding test run for 2022. These documents have been endorsed by all Member States involved in these RCGs in September, which represents a key positive achievement and a strongly encouraging message to continue the work and progress collectively on this route for the preparation of the RCG summer time rendez-vous of 2022.

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