ICES recommends slashing North Sea cod quota, NGOs respond

Published on
July 1, 2019

The 2020 North Sea cod catch should be no more than 10,457 metric tons (MT), which is 70 percent less than this year’s total allowable catch (TAC), the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) has recommended. 

ICES latest scientific advice is also 63 percent less than its own recommendation for 2019.

The intergovernmental marine science organization said the change is due to a combination of a downward revision of the spawning stock biomass (SSB) in recent years, the recruitment estimates for 2019 being substantially below the value assumed last year, and the need for a large reduction in fishing mortality to recover the stock to its maximum sustainable yield by 2021.

The United Kingdom’s other cod stocks – in the Celtic Sea, Irish Sea, and West of Scotland – are also subject to similar warnings, with the advice for a zero catch for both the West of Scotland and Celtic Sea.

Following these latest recommendations, E.U. fishing ministers have again come under fire from the NGO community for failing to support the recovery of vulnerable stocks.

“This follows years of policy decisions that put short term political interests over long-term economic and environmental sustainability. Sadly, this was entirely predictable and preventable; failing to follow the scientific advice makes announcements like this inevitable,” Jonny Hughes, U.K. officer for The Pew Trusts’ Ending Overfishing in Northwestern Europe campaign, said. 

Other NGOs also criticized the long-term management of the fishery that led to the recent decision to slash the quota. 

“The need to drastically reduce fishing of North Sea cod is a disaster for many fishers – a situation that could have been prevented if decision-makers had listened to the scientists in the first place, and delivered the healthy oceans and food security for all E.U. citizens that governments signed up to in the reformed Common Fisheries Policy,” Andrea Ripol, fisheries policy officer of Seas At Risk, said.

North Sea cod fishing limits are negotiated between the E.U. and Norway, and approved by the E.U. Council of Agriculture and Fisheries Ministers each December. 

“We have a biodiversity and climate emergency on our hands, yet as we speak, we are ignoring this fact by undermining the ocean ecosystems that give us every second breath we take,” Rebecca Hubbard, director of the Our Fish program, said. “Short-term business profits for a few players are being politically prioritized over nature, healthy coastal communities, food security and a resilient ocean that can adapt to the climate emergency. Norway and E.U. governments share the responsibility for this tragedy and must now act to turn the tide.” 

Our Fish and Seas At Risk are also calling on E.U. fisheries ministers to implement compulsory at-sea electronic monitoring on all fleet segments that catch North Sea cod and that are assessed as medium-high risk by the European Fisheries Control Agency.

They suggest this measure will ensure the elimination of illegal unreported catches and discards. 

“E.U. governments have failed to enforce the ban on discarding unwanted fish at sea and fully documenting all catches,” Hubbard said. “This unreported catch represents an enormous waste of valuable fish, and significantly worsens overfishing, including for the iconic North Sea cod. Unfortunately, it goes to show there is a need for mandatory electronic monitoring on vessels at sea.”

Contributing Editor reporting from London, UK

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