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Deal for North Sea Cod…

A Gamble Too Far?

Rejecting again the original scientific advice, EU Fisheries Ministers agreed bigger quotas but with less time to fish them, posing an uncertain future for cod stocks in 2008. In enabling fishermen to claw back lost days at sea by taking steps to avoid cod, the Ministers have taken a huge gamble. The onus is now firmly on them and the industry to prove that it is not a deal too far for the fragile shoots of cod recovery.

The UK and Scottish Ministers, Jonathan Shaw and Richard Lochhead, have hailed the fisheries deal in Brussels as a ‘fair settlement’. However, the shifting balance of sticks and carrots now puts responsibility firmly in the hands of the fishermen and the enforcement authorities to prove that the cod avoidance measures they put in place are capable of saving juvenile cod to accelerate stock recovery.The Ministers have agreed an 11% increase in the North Sea cod quota. As far as the effort deployed to catch this quota, they had hoped to avoid cuts in days at sea altogether in exchange for proactive measures by UK and Irish fishermen to avoid catching juvenile fish but Ministers failed to achieve a straight quid pro quo in Brussels.

The RSPB welcomes the initiatives taken by the fishermen, but given that they are still embryonic, voluntary, largely unproven, and only adopted thus far by the UK and Ireland, the 10% cut in days at sea demanded by the European Commission is absolutely necessary as a precautionary approach. European Commission is absolutely necessary as a precautionary approach. The crucial question is whether those constraints are adequate, and are implemented fast enough, to reduce cod mortality. It will be up to the fishermen and the monitoring of their efforts to prove that real-time closures and cod avoidance plans really are capable of protecting the current mini-bonanza of juvenile cod from being squandered and flushed overboard.

Dr Euan Dunn, Head of Marine Policy at the RSPB said: “For the past ten years, the Ministers and the fishing industry have been locked in a mortal embrace which has brought UK cod stocks to their knees. So we welcome that the fishermen have at last taken some responsibility for this debacle and are being proactive about avoiding the business as usual where 95% of juvenile cod are caught and discarded before they ever have a chance to breed even once.

But it is vital that any rewards of more days at sea for the fishermen are only conceded on the grounds of strictly observed science that these measures really are making a difference and are not just cosmetic. This will require a huge injection of resources for onboard observers on fishing vessels to prove it works. Beyond this, it is a scandal that the Fisheries Council consistently fails to make tried-and-tested gear selectivity measures - that would assist young cod to escape from nets - mandatory across all Community fleets. We still need to make basic conservation measures compulsory for all to deliver a really fair deal for fish stocks and dependent fishing communities.”

4th July 2014