West of Scotland Cod, Rockall Cod and Irish Cod are still at low level according to ICES quota advice for 2021
The International Council for Marine Research (ICES) has released its advice for 2021 Cod quotas on the West Coast of Scotland, the Celtic Seas and the Irish Sea.
The ICES advice is for no commercial fishing of Cod in these areas for 2021 and it appears that there will be no commercial fishing either in 2022 and beyond.
Poor recruitment and other factors such as the grey seal population are having negative effects on the recovery of the fish stock which has been in trouble for a long number of years now.
On the West of Scotland area, the ICES advises that when the MSY approach is applied, there should be zero catch in each of the years 2021 and 2022.
The Council’s research has shown the current spawning-stock biomass (SSB) is extremely low and has been below Blim since 1993. Recruitment (R) has also been very low since 2001. Fishing mortality (F) has been estimated above Flim since 1982, with the exception of the years 2015 and 2016.
Because the SSB is estimated to remain below Blim (14 376 tonnes) with any catch scenario, the advice for 2021 is the same as for 2020.
Management measures taken so far have not resulted in a recovery of the stock.
Even though fishing mortality declined between 2009 and 2016, it has shown an increase since. It is not known whether, and to what extent this increase is associated with the discontinuation of the days-at-sea regulation in 2017, which was part of the cod recovery plan.
Cod are known to form aggregations; hence, it is still possible to find areas of high cod density at low stock abundance. This can lead to high catches in localised areas, generating high fishing mortality even with low fishing effort. The impact of this could be reduced by temporary spatial measures (e.g. real-time closures). From 2019, cod is fully under the EU landing obligation in Division 6.a.
The below minimum size (BMS) landings of cod reported to ICES are currently negligible, and they are much lower than ICES estimates of catches below the minimum conservation reference size (MCRS).
In 2019, there was a significant decrease in the proportion of discards due to an increase in TAC compared to recent years. The partition of catch into projected landings and discards in the forecast is based on the assumption that the discarding pattern according to age seen in 2019 will continue in 2020 and 2021.
The increase in discards in the catch prediction relative to 2019 is due to an increased abundance of recruits relative to previous years. Estimated area-misreported landings (catches taken in Division 6.a, but reported elsewhere) account for over 40% of the total landings in recent years (average percentage 2017–2019).
Measures to reduce area misreporting should be introduced. Grey seal abundance is significant to the west of Scotland, and grey seals are known to feed on cod among other species. Cook et al. (2015) suggests that seal predation may be impairing the recovery of this stock.
Cod in the Rockall area: The ICES advises that when the precautionary approach is applied, catches should be no more than 14 tonnes in each of the years 2021, 2022, and 2023. This is in line with the current advice for 2020.
Cod in the Irish Sea: The ICES advises that when the precautionary approach is applied, catches in 2021 should be no more than 108 tonnes. This is eight tonnes less than the quota of 116 tonnes for 2020.