Fish quotas are bad news for cod

Posted: 4 January 2006

New fishing quotas for 2006, agreed by the European Union after three-days of talks in the run up to Christmas, seemed to satisfy all the governments involved except Sweden (which abstained) but left environmentalists in despair.

Under the agreement the number of days cod trawlers can spend at sea will be cut by 5 per cent - instead of the 15 per cent recommended by the European Commission. Scientists had called for a blanket ban on cod fishing due to low stocks, but this was opposed by fishing fleets.

France won the right to fish anchovies in the Bay of Biscay after the lifting of an outright ban. The deal to revive anchovy fishing in the Bay of Biscay came despite major concerns over low stocks. Overall just 5,000 tonnes of anchovies can be caught in the year.

The agreement was reached with no votes against from any of the 25 European nations. "We have achieved a good deal," British Fisheries Minister Ben Bradshaw said. "I believe this agreement will help conserve fish stocks, preserve the marine environment and help the long-term future of the fishing industry."

However, ministers have again taken less radical steps than those proposed by the Commission, which in turn was much milder than scientists called for, the BBC's Tim Hirsch reported.

Scientists were ignored

WWF said the agreement was bad news for cod. It warned that fish stocks are at risk of collapse after ministers at the EU Fisheries Council meeting "yet again ignored dire warnings from marine scientists not to set quotas for cod and other fish above sustainable levels of fishing."

The international conservation organisation said that despite the last several years of scientific advice recommending zero catch for cod, the EU Fisheries Council has once again given a green light to fishing cod in the North Sea. Not only has the quota for the last three years in total been above 81,000 tonnes, but the 2006 quotas for other fish stocks with significant accidental catches of cod have also increased compared to last year.

It is concerned that 2006 quotas for other fish stocks such as prawns and monkfish, which include significant accidental catches of juvenile cod, have also been increased by EU Ministers.

"It makes no sense to continue to allow targeted fishing on a stock that is on the verge of collapse. This decision gives cod only a small chance of recovery," said Andrew Lee, Director of Campaigns at WWF. "Once cod has disappeared from UK waters the EU fishing fleet will increasingly target other cod stocks in Arctic waters, putting them under similar pressure."

Selective fishing needed One area of particular concern for WWF is that the bycatch of cod is still too high, especially when the fishermen use nets with small mesh sizes which means that the young fish cannot escape. Helen Davies, WWF Fisheries policy officer said: "In a mixed fishery such as the UK, fishermen should use selective fishing gear and larger meshed nets to ensure that they catch fish stocks that are in a healthy condition and reduce fishing pressure on stocks already at risk."

One bright spot on the horizon was the banning of the highly wasteful gill net fishery for deepwater monkfish off the west coast of Scotland. Thousands of kilometres of fine meshed nets are thrown overboard every year catching vulnerable deep sea species such as sharks and orange roughy.

According to the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES), North Sea cod suffers reduced reproductive capacity and is being harvested unsustainably. Zero catch is therefore recommended to avoid further depletion of the stock.

"It makes no sense to allow fishing on a stock which has collapsed," said Charlotte Mogensen, Fisheries Policy Officer at WWF's European Policy Office. "Now it is clear that cod has no chance of recovering and this is just the first of many fish stocks that we are losing because of the mismanagement of European fisheries."

With 80 per cent of commercial fish species in EU waters now below safe biological limits or classified as being at risk of overfishing, the EU must listen and respond to ICES advice, he said.

"If the EU continues this madness of setting quotas above what the species can support, other fish stocks will follow the same route to collapse as cod in the North Sea," added Mogensen.

Other populations at risk of collapse include spurdog, skates and rays in the North Sea, and leafscale gulper sharks and Portuguese dogfish.

For information on The International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) advice click here.

The conclusion of the EU Fisheries Council are published on www.consilium.eu.int

Related link:

Collapsing fisheries