SKIPPERS and industry representatives from the main North Sea fishing nations have agreed to work together to improve the scientific surveys that inform international cod quotas.
Colleagues from Shetland, elsewhere in Scotland, Denmark, Norway and England recently met in Copenhagen to discuss the “quota mismatch that they are facing at sea”, with those on vessels saying the “solid stocks of cod” they find contrast with current official assessments.
The discussions painted “a unanimous picture of an abundant cod stock stretching across the entire North Sea and beyond”, according to a statement issued by the Shetland Fishermen’s Association on Tuesday.
Cod has tended to be the most valuable catch for Shetland’s whitefish fleet. North Sea quotas for the species have been reduced by 70 per cent in three years despite what fishermen describe as the “obvious strength of the stock” as scientific surveys “fail to detect the same mass of fish being encountered by fishing crews”.
They say that “poor science” leads to quota recommendations that “bear no resemblance to the volume of fish on the grounds”.
Fishermen’s representatives say the Scottish Government’s annual scientific stock assessments need “urgent” reform, expressing doubt about the fishing gear, trawl times and locations that are being used to assess for cod.
Last month skippers from Shetland and the Scottish White Fish Producers’ Association committed to investigating alternative industry-led stock assessment surveys.
SFA chairman James Anderson, the skipper of the Alison Kay, said: “Now we have international agreement to work together. Fishermen are ready and willing to collaborate with government scientists to see survey trawl results and quota recommendations made more realistic.
“The current situation at sea is putting viable boats at risk. I’ve been fishing since the mid eighties and have never seen so much cod around Shetland. We try to avoid it because quotas have been cut – but that’s nearly impossible now without wasted trips and wasted fuel at great expense. It’s difficult to make sense of that as a fisherman.”
The association also highlighted feedback from the Danish and Norwegian fishing associations, both of which said they were “struggling” to avoid cod because it was so abundant in their waters.
Northern Isles MP Alistair Carmichael welcomed the news: “Closer working between scientists and fishermen on all sides of the North Sea to monitor stocks can only be a good thing,” he said.
“We all know that fisheries quotas are perpetually out of date – whether too low or indeed too high. Now is the time to bring scientific analysis and the reality at sea more closely in line with one another.
“I have said before that it is in the interests of fishermen themselves to ensure that they have sustainable stocks for the years and decades to come – that is still more true when there is international agreement to ensure that no one country can overstep the mark at the expense of others. Fairness and accountability to one another and to the sustainability of the sea must be the goal.”
Carmichael added: “Bringing cod quotas more closely in line with up-to-date science may be still more timely in light of economic sanctions on Russia, which controls close to half the global supply of whitefish. We cannot easily mitigate the disruption caused to supply chains linked to Russia in recent weeks but a more accurate accounting of North Sea stocks will put us on a more stable footing for the future.”
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