Brussels, 20 Oct 2004
Scientists from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) are pushing for a reduction in fishing pressure on certain species in Europe, recommending zero catches of cod in the North Sea, Irish Sea and west of Scotland.
The advice is designed to help the Commission and national governments to set fishing quotas, and is based on data collected at fish markets, information provided by fishers, and surveys taken by research vessels. ICES stresses that its expertise lies in the scientific assessment of marine resources, and its advice does not take into account social and economic issues.
David Griffith, the general secretary of ICES, said: 'There is still no clear sign that cod stocks in the North Sea, Irish Sea and west of Scotland are making a recovery. It also seems that fishing effort on these stocks is still too high. A further problem that scientists face is substantial under-reporting of catches of cod, which makes it difficult to get true picture of the state of these stocks.'
According to the Council's data, the minimum recommended stock size in order to support cod fishing in the North Sea is 150,000 tonnes, whereas the estimated stock size in 2004 was less than a third of that, at around 46,000. There was also bad news for hake in southern Biscay where, following a sharp decline in numbers between 1982 and 1986, stocks are believed to be at an all time low of 10,200 tonnes. With the minimum recommended stock level for hake fishing in the region set at 35,000 tonnes, ICES has recommended zero catches in 2005.
The organisation explains that when a stock falls below the minimum recommended level, this means that it is being fished too hard and that the fish are not being given enough of a chance to reproduce. 'This does not necessarily mean that the stock will become extinct but it does mean that the current fishing pressure needs to be reduced to more sustainable levels,' it adds.
There was more promising data for North Sea haddock, however, where stocks are estimated at 460,000 tonnes - well over the minimum recommended level of 140,000. Scientists did sound a note of caution, however, pointing out that because haddock are often caught together with cod, haddock fisheries will have be managed in a way that avoids the by-catching and discarding of cod.
Some fishing industry campaigners reacted swiftly and negatively to the ICES recommendations. Carol MacDonald, leader of the Scottish Cod Crusaders campaign, said: 'These results are not what we have heard; as far as we have heard [cod stocks] are growing.
'It's about time that [ICES] started working with the real scientists, the fishermen, to see what the stocks are like. If there were no stocks in the sea, they wouldn't have cod tied up in their catch,' she added.
Lorcan O'Cinneide of the Irish Fish Producers' Organisation told Reuters: 'The ICES advice is as useful as an ashtray on a Harley Davidson. It is simply not do-able.'
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