The North Sea Advisory Council (NSAC) has written to the Director-General of DG MARE, Charlina Vitcheva over the ICES advice on anglerfish catch limits for 2023.
ICES (The International Council for the Exploration of the Seas) has recommended that the catch limits for anglerfish in the North Sea, Rockall and West of Scotland, Skagerrak and Kattegat should not exceed more than 9,881 tonnes in the years of 2023 and 2024. This is a 30% reduction on the 2022 quota, which fishing representatives claim will have a serious impact on their whitefish members.
The NSAC tells the Director-General that this is a “significant reduction” which is making fishermen concerned. The NSAC say:
“The advice from ICES strikes the NSAC industry members as out of touch with what is observed at sea by the fishers. The stock development index that the scientists utilize to calculate stock assessments, which eventually translates to ICES advice, shows a steady increase in numbers from 2021 to 2022. When this is held against the numbers of the previous years, however, it is a reduction, which is why ICES advise a reduction in the TAC for precautionary reasons.
“The industry members of the NSAC have previously drawn attention to the inappropriateness of reductions in quota of a growing stock, particularly when fishers must at the same time comply with the landing obligation.”
The NSAC signifies to the Director-General that the missing information from 2020, due to the COVID-19 crisis prevents a proper assessment of the stock.
The say, “In the view of the fishing industry members, for anglerfish, the missing information from 2020 prevents a better assessment of the stock status, since the last two years have only been compared with the previous two, whereby the decline, on paper, has become greater than it has been in reality. This is particularly worrisome since the stock in 2022 is larger than it has been in most years during the period for which the data is available.”
Not alone are fishermen facing a reduction in the total allowable catch for 2023 and 2024, the anglerfish quota has been subjected to cuts in recent years. The tell Ms Vitcheva:
“Finally, it should be mentioned that the quota for anglerfish in the North Sea has been reduced according to the scientific advice every single year since 2019, when it was 20,237 tonnes. In 2022, it is 9,014 tonnes.”
NSAC members believe that the science has it wrong, and like many stocks recently that have faced cuts due to the precautionary approach, what they are finding on the ground is not what the scientists are dictating. They say:
“Fishers from the Shetland Islands and Scotland in the West, to Swedish and Danish fishers in the East, including in the Skagerrak, report increasing catches. This is in accordance with the scientists’ description of the population status. The French fishers targeting saithe in 4a see an increase in catches of anglers as well. Furthermore, fishers from Netherlands and Belgium targeting flatfish in the Mid-eastern North Sea experience increased catches of anglers and strive to avoid the species becoming a choke species. To avoid this situation, the fishers try to keep away from areas where anglerfish is abundant. At least one Danish vessel has switched trawls to reduce their catch of anglerfish.”
The Advisory Council concluded by saying:
“The NSAC would like to further recall that there is a common interest in the EU, Norway and the UK to set up a joint management strategy for the anglerfish. Against this backdrop, it would be reasonable not to make hasty quota decisions only on the basis of the advice the ICES has provided for anglerfish for 2023.
“We remain at your disposal for further discussions on the matter.”