The first round of negotiations between the EU and Norway to agree on catching opportunities for shared stocks – a very important part of the Scottish fishery - got underway in Brussels this week with strong scientific indications that the North Sea cod stock is undergoing welcome recovery.
North Sea cod will again dominate the negotiations with a 20% cut in the TAC (total allowable catch) being recommended as part of the EU Cod Recovery Plan.
This proposed cut comes against the background of ICES (the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea) reporting that the spawning stock biomass (SSB) of North Sea cod has increased by 16% from 56,331 tonnes in 2011 to 65,317 tonnes in 2012*. ICES estimate that this figure is set to increase to 78,300 tonnes in 2013, which means that since 2008, the SSB on cod will have doubled.
Scientific data estimates there are 21 million adult cod in the North Sea. For North Sea haddock, advice based on the EU-Norway management plan is recommending a 15% increase in TAC, North Sea whiting an 11% rise and North Sea herring a 15% increase. North Sea saithe is also in line for a possible 15% increase. The scientific advice for all these stocks subject to the EU-Norway Management Plan indicates that they are in a good state and being fished sustainably.
Bertie Armstrong, chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, said: “As usual, the main focus of the EU/Norway negotiations will be on cod as the decisions made there will affect overall the mixed fishery environment of the North Sea.
“We welcome the fact that the science indicates that North Sea cod is undergoing an increasingly robust recovery. We hope that fishery managers and decision makers take heed of the huge innovation in terms of developing effective conservation measures that has brought a general overall improvement in stocks in the north-east Atlantic, as witnessed by much of the scientific advice.”
Among the measures adopted by Scots fishermen include the implementation of real-time fishing closures and the use and development of highly selective fishing gear.
“We have spearheaded many of these conservation initiatives, often at considerable sacrifice to the fleet. At the forthcoming EU Fish Council talks in Brussels we will at the very least be looking for an end to the continuing automatic cuts in the number of days that fishing vessels can put to sea.
“The sad reality is that cutting the cod quota against the background of a recovering stock will inevitably lead to an increase in discards – something every fisherman abhors.”