Fishermen in Shetland are urging the EU and Norway to abandon a controversial cod management plan and increase North Sea quotas to help reduce the dumping of healthy fish at sea.
Well in advance of talks to set the total allowable catch (TAC) of cod for 2015, they are highlighting analysis of advice from ICES scientists which suggests increasing the quota by a third would dramatically reduce the need for discards without hampering continuing stock recovery.
Under the existing cod management plan, the TAC for North Sea cod next year could be cut by 20 per cent, leading to a substantial increase in the amount of fish thrown over the side.
Simon Collins, executive officer of Shetland Fishermen’s Association (SFA), said: “It’s very simple. If you cut quotas when stocks are increasing, you increase the amount of perfectly healthy, high-quality fish thrown back into the sea.
“Yet the European Union has introduced a discard ban which is due to be phased in from next year onwards.
“On the one hand they want to eliminate discards, but on the other they want to cut quotas which would have the direct effect of increasing discards.
“And it’s not the fishermen who are making these points, but scientists whom EU officials have asked to provide them with advice.
“They need to listen to that advice and act on it, otherwise they are going to have two completely contradictory sets of plans which will crush fishermen caught in the middle – and leave themselves looking alarmingly incompetent.”
In response to a request from the SFA, Dr Ian Napier of the NAFC Marine Centre in Scalloway has analysed the ICES advice, which presents 11 options with catches ranging from zero to 58,500 tonnes.
He observes that ICES assumes substantial discards of cod already. Were those discards to be added to the 2014 quota, fishermen would be able to land 33 per cent more cod next year.
Dr Napier states in his report: “The extra quota this would create would probably go a considerable way toward eliminating the discarding of North Sea cod by Scottish whitefish vessels as a result of quota limitations.”
Adding a further 10 per cent quota uplift on top of this could eliminate quota-related discards altogether.
Neither of these options would make a significant difference to the health of the cod stock in the North Sea.