FISHERMEN are warning Scottish and UK government ministers against an “ideological approach” to setting next year’s catch quotas for species such as cod.
The warning follows advice from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) that includes options of severe cuts in quotas for North Sea cod and other whitefish species.
Shetland Fishermen’s Association has issued a briefing paper that “dispels a series of myths” about North Sea cod and describes as “risible” the notion that it is endangered.
Executive officer Simon Collins said that the state of fish stocks warrants calm management rather than “blinkered dogmatism”.
ICES advice on fishing opportunities is that in order to achieve a maximum sustainable yield, catches in the North Sea, eastern English Channel and Skagerrak should be no more than 10,457 tonnes – a reduction of 70 per cent on this year’s TAC [Total Allowable Catch].
ICES, which issues scientific advice to the EU and coastal states, says that the amount of cod caught has increased since 2015, the spawning stock has decreased since 2015 and recruitment (the number of fish reaching a year old) “remains poor”.
Collins added: “The main point we are making is that cod is by no means in steep decline.
“There were more than 180 million cod in the North Sea in 2018 – that’s three times the human population of the UK and three times more than the most common land animal, the field vole.
“So to describe cod as ‘threatened’ or ‘endangered’ or at risk of ‘extinction’, as many have, is risible.”
He added: “The second key point, from a fisheries management point of view, is that the baseline or reference point if you like, on which decisions about how much can or should be caught, is utterly meaningless.
“There was a huge upsurge in the cod stock in the 1960s and 1970s, for not wholly understood reasons, but this has never recurred. And decisions are being made about TACs in the misguided belief that we can get back to that size of a stock.
“We can’t control nature to turn the clock back, especially when other factors have altered, such as the concentration of the stock now in the northern North Sea rather than throughout the North Sea.”
The SFA paper says that all fish stocks vary in abundance over time, and the overall abundance of six principal whitefish species in the North Sea – the others being haddock, plaice, saithe, sole and whiting – has more than doubled in the last 20 years.
“The reality of the situation is that scientists are saying that North Sea cod is twice as abundant as it was a dozen years ago. Their advice to cut quotas has nothing to do with conservation and everything to do with a wholly unrealistic political objective,” said Collins.
“We are sick and tired of ideology getting in the way of sustainable fisheries management. As always, there is serious discussion to be had over catch quotas. But they have to be based on reality, not political targets plucked from thin air.”