Red-letter day for North Sea cod
The EU-Norway fisheries agreement, reached after weeks of negotiation, sees the total allowable quota for cod in the North Sea increase by 30 per cent, on the condition that fishermen reduce the amount of “discard”, or unwanted fish thrown back in the sea either dead or dying.
Discard includes cod if the fisherman’s quota has been reached or if the fish is under-size, and other fish (bycatch) that may have been caught by accident.
Now though fishermen face mandatory use of eliminator trawls – a special type of net which allows cod to escape – and other selective gear when the quota is almost reached.
In addition, discard of fish above minimum landing size will be banned and closed areas during the spawning season introduced.
The European Union has finally committed to work on a complete ban on discard, already in force in the Norwegian Sea, within the upcoming reform of the Common Fisheries Policy in 2012.
“We welcome new rules to encourage more selective gear and closed areas during the spawning season,” said Aaron McLoughlin, Head of European Marine Programme at WWF. “The key point, though, is that these measures are enforced.
“A quota increase for cod based on less cod being removed from the sea and discarded needs fishermen and governments to work together to make sure rules are applied. Discard remains a problem and that needs to be a priority of the reform of the Common Fisheries Policy.”
WWF is urging the EU to make the use of selective gear like eliminator trawls mandatory all year round.
As far as other stocks in the agreement are concerned, WWF supports the reduction of quota by 13 per cent for plaice as it is in line with the scientific advice, but regrets that the advice to cut whiting quotas by 67 per cent was ignored in favour of a cut by only 15 per cent. According to the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES – a scientific body advising the EU) such a limited reduction won’t be enough to restore a fishery which suffers from excessive fishing mortality.
The agreed quotas for North Sea cod and related measures to reduce discards will be ratified by the EU Fisheries Ministers at the Council meeting on 18-19 December in Brussels.