The Scottish Parliament hears calls to stop a recommended 10.3 percent cut in the cod quota for the North Sea

The Scottish Parliament hears calls to stop a recommended 10.3 percent cut in the cod quota for the North Sea

Yesterday’s meeting in the Scottish Parliament heard calls for the Government to stop a proposed 10.3 percent cut in the cod quota for the North Sea.

Scientific advice from the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES) has called for a cut in the North Sea cod quota for 2022 because they believe the stock is under pressure but fishing organisations, the Shetland Fishermen’s Association and the Scottish White Fish Producers Organisation are disputing this advice and believe that the methods used by ICES needs to be revised.

From their members experience on the ground, cod stocks are healthy, but the ICES accesses the whole of the North Sea, and in the southern area cod stocks have virtually collapsed. But this is not the case in the north where the stock is still strong.

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Any cut in the cod quota would be disastrous for the Scottish whitefish fleet as it would lead to a choke, meaning boats would have to tie-up and be unable to catch their full quotas of other species they are targeting.

Yesterday, in the Scottish Parliament, Scottish Conservative MSP, Rachael Hamilton called on the Government to ensure that this cut would not go ahead. She said:

“I want to touch on cod stocks. The Shetland Fishermen’s Association and the Scottish White Fish Producers Association have asked the Scottish Government and the UK Government to create an independent panel to assess and put into proper perspective the numbers from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea. Fishermen have warned Scottish ministers to think twice about cutting cod quotas for next year, after figures showed that there are 285 million fish in the North Sea. ICES is recommending a 10.3 per cent reduction in the total allowable catch for North Sea cod, even though it admits that doubling quota for the species would mean a 24 per cent increase in stock by 2023.

“We know that North Sea cod is abundant and that the population in 2018 was 180 million. However, Green non-governmental organisations constantly describe the species as threatened, endangered or at risk of extinction. Perhaps the picture is very different. That is why, in an intervention, I asked the cabinet secretary whether there is a threat of the SNP-Green coalition cutting the quota, given that conservation is devolved.”

Beatrice Wishart, Shetland Islands MSP for the Liberal Democrats also backed the call. She said:

“I will not be the first to raise with the cabinet secretary the disparity between the scientific assessment of fish stocks, particularly cod, and the reality on the fishing grounds. I am told that the disparity has widened to the point where the credibility of the fisheries management system is under threat. Shetland fishermen are seeing abundant cod on the fishing grounds, but some vessels face bankruptcy if the quota is cut again. As it has been put to me,

“it is one thing to have fishing vessels going bankrupt if fish stocks disappear but quite another to engineer a situation where they go bankrupt amid the largest fish stock seen in the North Sea for the last two decades.”

“I understand that an increasing number of fisheries scientists have grown uneasy over the ICES stock assessments. Although ICES says that it is willing to engage with the fishing industry to improve data collection and the way in which the data is interpreted, the trouble is that that will take years. That could mean vessels going bankrupt and, in turn, coastal and island communities facing crisis, all of which is avoidable.

“Shetland may be small and perfectly formed, but we are a large ocean community in the heart of the North Sea and north Atlantic. We rely on the sea and those who work on and around it. To that end, I am frequently in touch with the Shetland Fishermen’s Association which, along with colleagues on the mainland, has called for the introduction of an expert panel to advise ministers on ICES advice every year. There is concern about the quality of scientific advice in relation to both the at-sea data gathering exercise that feeds into annual ICES assessments and the reference points that ICES uses to recommend total allowable catches—TACs.

“The headline recommendation from ICES in relation to North Sea cod is a 10.3 per cent reduction in the 2022 TAC. That is where negotiators feel bound to start from. They need reasons to depart from that advice if there is going to be an agreement to an increase rather than a decrease of cod TACs.

“I will make several points about the ICES advice and the increase of North Sea cod quotas next year. According to ICES, the North Sea cod quota could be increased substantially in 2022 without sacrificing increases in stock size. Modelling indicates that the spawning stock biomass—SSB—of that species would increase by 24 per cent between now and 2023 if the TAC was doubled. More modest increases in the TAC would lift the SSB by almost as much as the ICES-recommended 10.3 per cent cut.

“Secondly, the ICES reference point for North Sea cod is the largest size that the stock has reached in the period from 1998 to 2021—almost 98 tonnes—which is the highest figure for the past 40 years. That means that the system is trying to raise the North Sea cod SSB to levels that, according to the advice, cannot be reached by 2023 even with no fishing at all.

“Thirdly, North Sea demersal fisheries are mixed fisheries, with cod being caught at the same time as several other species during typical fishing operations. An acute shortage of cod quota in a situation of cod abundance restricts the fleet’s capacity to catch species for which it has quota.

“The immediate priorities for Shetland’s fleets in this year’s talks are to agree an increase in the North Sea cod quota, avoid a cut in the ling quota, as the only evidence available to ICES shows the stock to be three times larger than it was 20 years ago, and keep up pressure on our neighbours to reverse the unilateral increases in mackerel quotas that were announced this year.”

By Oliver McBride

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Scottish Parliament hears calls to intervene on cut to North Sea Cod Quota

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