Representatives from the fishing organisations of North Sea countries met last week and agreed that fish stock surveys need to improve northern cod advice 2024

Despite Northern cod advice 2024 showing increasing biomass on the fishing grounds ICES has recommended a cut in the TAC

The new Northern Shelf Cod assessment may be a step forward for multi-stock assessment, but it’s a step back for balanced fisheries management, believes Dale Rodmell, Chief Executive of the Eastern England Fish Producers Organisation.

Writing in a blog, Mr Rodmell argues that the ICES decision to cut the recommended total allowable catch for cod will place restraints on fishermen catching other plentiful fish stocks, leading to an unnecessary choke because of ICES being disproportionately cautionary. He writes:

“With the much-anticipated Northern cod advice now out showing increasing biomass on the northern fishing grounds including West of Scotland and a recovery trajectory in the southern North Sea, it should be a time for jubilation. Regrettably, with an overall implied 17% reduction in TAC it is anything but.

Despite an improvement in the evidence base that underpins a move this year to a multi-stock assessment model with three sub-stocks, a novel decision-making process applied by ICES has paradoxically led to a ratcheting up of precautionary procedure that has resulted in the cut. This would see the fishery considerably constrained on the main northern grounds, well below the MSY estimates for the individual sub stocks, in order to supposedly protect the southern sub-stock, the weakest of the three, not a prime consideration in previous assessments that assumed a single North Sea stock.

The decision appears to rest on a lack of knowledge on the degree to which the sub-stocks mix, meaning that the main fishery on the northern grounds may theoretically exploit a component of the southern stock should it migrate onto the grounds. But this is theoretical and does not consider to what extent it may or may not be a factor, nor the degree to which it may knock the southern sub-stock off its current recovery trajectory. Not accounting for it in previous assessments, and a resulting increasing of biomass is evidence in itself that it probably won’t. Instead, the advice, if adopted, will most likely translate to increases in unaccounted mortality and wasted yield from the cod stock.

northern cod advice 2024

Dale Rodmell, CEO Eastern England FPO

It comes at a time when in the North Sea we are witnessing strong increases in biomass across the whitefish stocks more broadly; haddock and whiting especially, but also saithe. The evidence and views from industry also indicate a growing ling stock despite another seemingly perverse cut in the ICES advice of 12%. If, despite growing biomass, cod becomes the limiting stock because of a disproportionately precautionary TAC constraint, under a system of discard management with full control it can only translate to wasted yield from the other stocks, as well as cod.

This points to what is perhaps an even more significant problem than the headline TAC advice this year – the longer term implications of repeating such decision-making processes or applying it to other stocks based on multi-stock assessment methods that are surely to be more widely used in the future. In a single stock advisory process that rigidly and single mindedly champions single stock MSY and precaution over all other considerations, and especially discards, it threatens to deepen dysfunction in a management system that is also aimed at minimising discards.

The current Defra consultation on discard reform and REM makes no reference to TAC setting processes in shedding light on a new direction for discard policy. Unless policy makers and scientists are going to take discards seriously and embed their consideration in TAC setting decision-making, by properly recognising and evaluating the conflicting management trade-offs, we are heading closer and closer to a system of chaos.”


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