Fishing policy aims to achieve a good balance between commercial fishing and nature. It uses the sustainable management of fish stocks to do this. Accordingly, each year the EU sets the catch quotas and it regularly adjusts the fisheries measures based on newly acquired understanding. This often arises from the scientific advice provided by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES). The Netherlands has transferred its own authority to regulate the fisheries activity in the North Sea to the European Commission. This means that the EU is empowered to impose fisheries measures.
In recent decades many fish species in the North Sea saw their numbers decline dramatically. And so the fish catch decreased, too. Another clear change has been in the size of fish in the North Sea. Prior to 1980 more than 30% of the catch weight consisted of fish longer than 25 cm. In 2007 this percentage was less than 10%. This means that on average younger fish are being caught than used to be the case. But if fish are being caughtbefore they reach the age at which they breed, their breeding is jeopardised.
The most important sectors in Dutch offshore fishing are cutter fishing and stern trawling. The latter involves larger vessels and operations. The 373 active cutters – with a total engine capacity of 300,000 hp – work mainly in the North Sea and the Wadden Sea. Traditionally, most cutters fish with tickler chains and a beam trawl, which involves dragging their net and the chains along the seabed. The chains alarm the fish as they lay on the bottom (euphemistically, they 'tickle ' the fish), after which they swim into the net. The most important species caught in this way are common sole, plaice and shrimp. While beam trawl fishing is an efficient technique for catching flatfish, it causes a great deal of damage to the seabed.
Beam trawl fishing is subject to much criticism. In addition, it is rather high cost. This is due to the ship’s fuel consumption. This has prompted fishermen to seek alternatives to the beam trawl. New techniques that are finding increasing acceptance are fishing with vertical nets, fishing with hooks instead of nets, and methods that cause much less damage when they drag a net over the seabed. Moreover, fishermen are increasingly keen to use a fishing method that has the MSC certificate so that they can demonstrate that their catch is sustainable. MSC is the abbreviation for Marine Stewardship Council, an international organisation that manages the only ecolabel for seafood products.
The Dutch fleet of 16 active freezer stern trawlers fish for species such as herring, mackerel and horse mackerel. Much of their catch area lies outside European waters. The waters off the African coast are a particularly important area for them.