Europe Cuts Quotas to Halt Fisheries Collapse

BRUSSELS, Belgium, December 1, 2000 (ENS) - The European Commission wants to cut fishing quotas by up to 74 percent to protect populations close to collapse.

"There is no way round it: to have a fishing industry we need fish," said Agriculture, Rural Development and Fisheries Commissioner Franz Fischler.


European Agriculture, Rural Development and Fisheries Commissioner Franz Fischler. (Photo courtesy European Agriculture, Rural Development and Fisheries Commissioner)
Independent advice from scientists at the International Center for Exploration of the Sea (ICES) warns that cod and whiting in the North Sea and to the west of Scotland are in severe danger of collapse.

The Northern hake population in the European Union's western waters is also at risk.

Formed in 1902, ICES is the oldest intergovernmental marine science organization in the world and works with experts from its 19 member countries. It has advised the European Union and North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission (NEAFC) to significantly cut the level of fishing of these three species as well as other demersal (sea bottom) species that evolve with cod, whiting and hake.

While the Commission has acted, the NEAFC, which sets quotas for fisheries operating within the northeast Atlantic, and for Norway, Iceland, Poland and Russia, has put off any decision until next March.

This is despite of ICES' warning that, "the immediate threat is... stocks may be fished down before the status of the stocks can be assessed."

"Fishermen have acknowledged that they cannot catch their cod quotas and that stocks need to be rebuilt," said Fischler.

"This requires a two pronged approach involving a significant decrease in total catches and measures to protect spawning and young fish."

The following proposed cuts in total allowable catches (TAC) will be examined by the Council of Fisheries Ministers on December 14.

For pelagic species occurring on the open seas, such as herring, mackerel and horse mackerel, the Commission generally proposes to retain the same TACs as last year. The same applies to pelagic species, which support industrial fisheries - sandeel, blue whiting and some sprat populations.


White fish are ever popular on the plate but harder to find in the North Sea. (Photo courtesy Croan Seafoods, Edinburgh)
But for the many species that evolve with cod, whiting and hake, the Commission wants fishing reduced. This applies to species such as saithe, plaice, sole and haddock.

"In order to effectively protect these three stocks, the amount of fishing must also be decreased in all fisheries likely to catch them," said a European Commission statement. "There is no definite information about the precise linkages between the various species concerned.

"On the basis of the information available to it, however, the Commission is proposing to decrease fishing effort by 20 percent on those stocks for which analytical assessments are available.

"These include saithe, plaice and sole. For haddock in the west of Scotland, the Commission proposes a reduction of 40% in fishing pressure."

For some fish populations for which analytical assessment is unavailable, precautionary counts are set. For these fish, where a link exists with cod, whiting or hake, a 20 percent reduction is proposed. Included in this are Norway lobster, skates, rays, turbot and brill.

For the first time, TACs have been proposed for deep water species. According to ICES, these slow growing, vulnerable species are already over exploited.

As well as lowering TACs, the European Commission wants to rebuild populations at risk by pooling scientific data, modifying fishing gear and limiting fishing vessels' access to specific areas.

A rebuilding plan for the cod population was set up in the Irish Sea earlier this year, again on the advice of ICES. Under the plan, a closed area was established during the spawning season from February 14 to April 30, and a series of technical measures to enable young fish to escape from trawl nets was implemented.


Grey seal (Halichoerus grypus). (Photo by P. Pomeroy, courtesy Sea Mammal Research Unit, St. Andrew's University, Scotland)
In recent weeks, the Anglo-Scottish Fishermen's Federation has called for a sanctioned cull of seal pups as an additional response to falling fish populations.

In August, it asked the Scottish Executive to set up a special commission including scientific, fisheries and environmental interests, to examine the interactions between Scotland's fisheries and grey seals (Halichoerus grypus) and harbour seals (Phoca vitulina vitulina).

The Scottish Executive is the government in Scotland for all matters devolved from the United Kingdom's Labour government in London.

The fishermen contend that burgeoning numbers of seals in United Kingdom waters are increasingly competing for dwindling numbers of fish.

The Scottish Executive responded by saying that it would examine the proposals but that a committee already exists to advise ministers, and that there is no evidence to suggest that seals pose a significant threat to commercial fish populations.