The SFF has responded to Oceana report, ‘Taking Stock – The state of fish populations 2023’ calling it a naïve assessment. Photo: Marine Scotland
Responding to the latest misleading attack on the state of the UK’s fish stocks, by the corporately-funded, anti-fishing group Oceana, Elspeth Macdonald, chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, said: “This report is a naïve assessment based on only partial knowledge and limited understanding of fisheries science and management.
Oceana claims that over a third of UK fish stocks analysed are being overfished and a quarter have been depleted to critically low sizes, according to the latest scientific assessments.
Of the ‘top 10’ stocks on which the UK fishing industry relies, half are overfished, or their stock size is at a critically low level, claims the eNGO in their Executive Summary “TAKING STOCK – The state of UK fish populations 2023”.
Oceana claims that to safeguard marine ecosystems, coastal communities and the future of the fishing industry, the UK government must act urgently to end overfishing and meet its national and international biodiversity commitments.
“It is routine for fish stocks to fluctuate. Increases and decreases in scientific advice between years are absolutely normal. Scientific advice also contains margins of error. These and other factors are taken into account by fisheries managers in setting total allowable catches (TACs). If TACs are set that exceed scientific advice, then that will have been carefully considered by fisheries managers within governments. We are fortunate in Scotland in having very well managed fisheries.
“Fisheries managers in the UK set quotas for mackerel based on ICES scientific advice, and the Scottish fleet fishes within these limits. Some other countries involved in the mackerel fishery do exceed limits, but we do not.
“Scientists now acknowledge that there is no such thing as a West of Scotland cod stock. We have a northern shelf cod stock that covers the North Sea and West of Scotland, and ICES advice due to be published very soon is expected to show that it is in good health. It will be evident that science is catching up with what fishermen have been saying for years – that cod are abundant in Scottish waters and that the stock is healthy.
“Science is always evolving – West of Scotland whiting had a zero TAC until ICES undertook a benchmark exercise, including a detailed review of the science. As a result, the advice changed and a TAC is now set, so management of the stock followed the updated science. ICES will shortly be starting similar benchmark work for anglerfish/monkfish, where TACs have been reduced due to the science being over-precautionary. Industry will be contributing to this work, as we want to see the best possible science to enable optimal management.
“Fisheries managers also have to make decisions that translate into the real world. If the scientific advice for one stock in a mixed fishery is for zero TAC, managers may have to set a small quota to account for bycatch – otherwise they risk closing a whole fishery where other stocks may be very abundant. When this happened on the West of Scotland, industry also took action through working with scientists to develop tools for ‘real time reporting’ that allowed fishing boats to avoid certain areas.
“It’s also worth noting that the Scottish Government has a national indicator of the percentage of fish stocks fished sustainably. In 2020, an estimated 69 per cent of commercial fish stocks were fished at sustainable levels in Scottish waters. This represents an increase of 35 percentage points from 2000. The percentage fished sustainably in 2020 is the highest level recorded since this data collection began (1991) and demonstrates the ongoing recovery of the commercial fish stocks.
“No-one has a greater interest in fishing sustainably than those who make their living from the sea, and we strongly support greater cooperation and knowledge sharing between fishermen and fisheries scientists so we can have the best possible information on which to base the best possible management.”