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Quota threat from incomplete science

SCOTTISH fishermen are likely to be punished with reduced quotas next year because other EU member states have failed to provide necessary scientific information on the state of fish stocks.

Earlier this week the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) said that cod stocks had not recovered enough and called for further cuts in fishing opportunities.

It now emerged that ICES’s advice is based on incomplete science since information on discards has not been received from French, Belgian and Dutch fisheries.

The Scottish Fishermen’s Federation on Friday called on the EU to take action against those member states.

Its chief executive Bertie Armstrong said it was “totally unacceptable” and “absurd” that the industry should suffer further cuts on the basis of “uncertain science”.

“This is scandalous and the EC must act as a matter of urgency to obtain the required information from those countries that have failed to supply the required data.

“The potential consequences are so serious that the time has come for the UK to demand that the EU take legal proceedings against those not playing their part,” he said.

He added: “Recognising that the science is uncertain and that public money for more scientific resource is unlikely to be forthcoming, we will do all in our power to make data available ourselves.

“The Scottish Fishermen’s Federation takes pride in our close working relationship with Marine Scotland Science based at the Marine Laboratory and we are now offering to do everything that we can to help provide scientists with more and immediate information on the status of stocks that can be factored into coherent fisheries management.

“The view from fishermen, who have the earliest sight of what is happening on the grounds, is that there is a gap between the present uncertain assessments and reality.”

Earlier this week, ICES assessed North Sea cod to have a spawning stock biomass that has increased since 2006 but which is still just short of the range desired.

The organisation added that the amount of cod taken out of the sea (mortality) had declined over the period but may not be at the desired level.

If the ICES advice is acted upon, then it will trigger automatic cuts in quota and also in the number of days that fishing vessels can spend at sea, which would come at a time when sections of the Scottish fleet are struggling to survive at present levels.

Speaking after Scottish fishermen were briefed by ICES to the effect that further quota cuts and still more reductions in days at sea were necessary, the Conservative Scottish shadow cabinet secretary John Scott said: “I have the greatest concerns about the implications of this advice, which appears to suggest that further cuts are required in quotas and days at sea, notwithstanding the apparent improvement in fish stocks.

“It is simply unacceptable that a lack of provision of data by French, Belgian and Dutch authorities should have this effect on our fishermen, and I have asked Struan Stevenson MEP to raise this as a matter of urgency with Fisheries Commissioner Damanaki when he meets her next Wednesday and before further damage is done to Scotland’s fishing