The management of sea fisheries in the North Sea has been made simpler and more flexible following unanimous agreement among EU member states to amend the Cod Recovery Plan (CRP).
At a meeting of the EU Fisheries Management Committee in Brussels, member states backed a European Commission proposal to merge the two main North Sea trawl gear categories contained in the CRP – whitefish (TR1) and prawn (TR2).
These gear categories control the amount of time that vessels can spend at sea and this change will make it easier for vessels to fish with larger mesh. The time at sea limits will be merged on a one to one basis, ensuring that fishermen face no reduction in overall time at sea.
“Today’s agreement to amend the Cod Recovery Plan is a step forward in removing an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy in fisheries management,” said Richard Lochhead, fisheries secretary for Scotland.
“It’s right that our fishermen begin to reap the rewards of many years of effort and hard change while the cod stocks in the waters around Scotland are well on the road to recovery, with the level of catches scientists advise for North Sea cod in 2016 increased by up to 15 percent - the highest catch level recommended in 15 years.
"This change today will also give fishermen more choices as they prepare for the continued implementation of the EU discard ban, which started this year and applies next year to important fish stocks like haddock and prawns.
“It is still important, however, that the European Commission takes the next step and brings forward a proposal to abolish the Cod Recovery Plan altogether and replace it with a more flexible mixed fishery management plans for the North Sea and the waters off the west coast of Scotland.”
The CRP sets cod quotas and time at sea for over 10-meter fishing vessels capable of catching cod, even if only a little. Recovery plans have been in place since 2004.
Of the 2,000-plus Scottish fishing vessels, nearly 400 vessels are controlled by CRP time at sea limits.
The cod stock in the North Sea has increased substantially in recent years, from a low of 36,000 metric tons (MT) in 2006 to an estimated 150,000 MT this year.
Officials will make proposals on effort management in 2016-17 to the Fisheries Management and Conservation (FMAC) Group, the government and industry co-management group. This is expected in January 2016 once effort allocations have been confirmed at December Fisheries Council.