Concerns that new rules are only going to decimate cod stocks

Campaigners have slammed new Scottish Government plans that will allow trawlers to throw away fish at sea, further depleting fish stocks such as west coast cod.

By John A. MacInnes
Tuesday, 31st May 2022, 2:48 pm
Updated Tuesday, 31st May 2022, 2:48 pm
Could we be seeing the end to a lovely cod and chips tea?
Could we be seeing the end to a lovely cod and chips tea?

The Scottish Government’s flagship ‘Future Catching Policy’ claims to be a world-leading plan, but members of Our Seas, a wide coalition of 131 coastal businesses, fishing associations, community and environmental groups from across Scotland say the proposals will further undermine the health of inshore fish populations. They argue that the Government’s continued failure to introduce urgent spatial management measures, as well as legalising the controversial practice of discarding fish at sea, will sanction overfishing of depleted stocks such as west coast cod and accelerate ongoing damage to inshore fish nursery grounds.

In the wake of Brexit, the Scottish Government developed a new vision for Scotland’s fisheries and promised a fisheries policy to “link stock management with responsive and proportionate technical and spatial measures" to deliver “a reduction in waste”. But the new plans explicitly legalise discarding, a practice banned across the fleet in 2019. Furthermore, the proposals contain no “spatial measures” to safeguard sustainable fishing, as promised.

The coalition, which supports the reinstatement of an inshore limit on bottom-trawling, describes the decline of inshore fish populations such as west coast cod as “a national disgrace” and point to the Clyde specifically as a “textbook example of how not to do fisheries management”. The coalition say that the continued wasteful catch of young, small whitefish from the Clyde’s prawn trawl fishery is suppressing population recovery.

According to the latest stock assessments, the International Council for Exploration of the Seas (ICES) estimates the spawning population of west coast cod to be at an all-time historical low, and advises a zero catch policy. However, because the juvenile cod are caught as bycatch in the trawl nets, the Scottish Government allocates a ‘bycatch quota’ against this scientific advice. For the past few years a law has been in place requiring that this “bycatch” of small fish be landed to port. However, the Scottish Government has now set out plans to remove these rules and allow juvenile, undersized fish - and in some cases adult marketable fish - to be discarded at sea.

Campaigners within the Our Seas coalition claim that the plans risk putting “the final nail in the coffin of the Clyde cod population and wider recovery of white fish stocks”.

The Scottish Parliament’s Rural Affairs committee recently heard that there are approximately 3.5 million cod in the Clyde, and yet two million of these fish are being caught every year by prawn trawlers that use bottom-trawl nets to target Nephrops (langoustine). Despite industry claims that the fishery is ‘clean’ with a low bycatch rate, campaigners argue that the bycatch of cod, estimated by Government to be 100 tonnes, is suppressing the recovery of the wider cod stock.

Members of the Our Seas coalition are urging communities across Scotland to respond to the government consultation which closes on Tuesday 7th June.

Bally Philp, National Coordinator of the Scottish Creel Fishermen’s Federation said: “The Scottish Government promised to bring in spatial measures to modernise our fisheries, but we are watching a giant tumbleweed roll across fisheries policy as the Scottish Government once again duck any meaningful action to regenerate our inshore fisheries and protect the environment. The majority of Scotland’s fleet is small-scale and low impact, but these boats are often disregarded in favour of bigger operators. These proposals will squeeze the life from our inshore fisheries. Until 1984 an inshore limit was in place which prohibited bottom-trawling within three miles of the shore. This safeguarded our inshore fisheries and protected our seabeds and nursery from damage and over-exploitation. Let’s bring back the fish, let’s bring back an inshore limit.”

Willie Kennedy of Scottish Federation of Sea Anglers said: “Coastal villages around Scotland used to play host to many popular and even international sea angling festivals that reflected the abundance of life in our seas, but these have declined over the years along with the fish stocks. Our fisheries are a public asset and should be managed for all stakeholders, including recreational anglers - Marine Scotland’s proposals to allow the dumping of large numbers of dead fish back into the sea is simply unacceptable. This sort of practice has no place in modern sustainable marine management or indeed any reflection of common sense”.

Jenny Crockett of Community of Arran Seabed Trust said: “The decline of our fisheries has direct consequences for the health of our communities. If we look after our local marine environment, then it will look after us. For too long the wastefulness of trawler bycatch has suppressed any prospect of recovery of whitefish populations in the Clyde; these plans would enable that unsustainable pattern of fishing to continue. Now is the time for government to wake up to the biodiversity and climate crisis, rather than commit our seas to another decade of depletion.”

Charles Millar of Sustainable Inshore Fisheries Trust said “The Scottish Government is well aware that cod stocks are in a depleted state, and that scientists advise a zero-catch policy, so their proposals to make legal the bycatch and wasteful discarding of cod (and other whitefish) is a national disgrace. It’s a textbook example of how not to do fisheries management. Instead of trying to deregulate the responsibilities under the Landing Obligation, Scottish Government should be focusing on improving surveillance and monitoring of these fisheries. Making the problem go away by lowering the standards in force throughout the EU is a retrograde step and frankly, embarrassing”.

Joe Richards of Blue Marine Foundation said "Allowing the wasteful practice of discarding would be the final nail in the coffin for beleaguered fish populations such as west coast cod in the Clyde. Catch limits for Scottish stocks are consistently set above the scientifically advised sustainable levels. Legalising discarding allows our fisheries to continue being mismanaged, unmonitored and misreported as well as contributing to a vast amount of food waste. It’s a cynical governmental manoeuvre - rather than taking tough decisions to solve the problem of illegal discarding, officials are simply legalising it to make it look like the problem has gone away”.

Phil Taylor, Head of Policy of Open Seas said: “It is extremely worrying to see environmentally-minded politicians apparently showing support for these plans. Catching and throwing away juvenile fish from depleted stocks is unsustainable. It appears that Government are willing to sacrifice cod stocks just to enable intensive inshore bottom trawling to continue. We are urging people across Scotland to respond to the government’s consultation and call for a review of these plans and more spatial protection for the inshore zone.”

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