Sustainable, profitable management plan proposed for North Sea whitefish

Published on
August 4, 2016

The European Commission (EC) has proposed a first multi-annual plan for demersal fish stocks in the North Sea, which covering more than 70 percent of the fishing sector with catch limits based on science.

According to the EC, the new plan brings decision-making closer to the fishermen as certain powers will shift to the relevant national and regional authorities. For example, regional actors will be able to recommend tailor-made rules on the phasing-in of the landing obligation.

North Sea fisheries are highly complex, involving vessels from at least seven coastal member states, as well as Norway. Vessels use a variety of fishing equipment and their catches consist of a mix of different species, such as cod and haddock, or plaice and sole. The new proposal establishes a management plan that takes into account these mixed-fisheries interactions.

"Multi-annual plans are an important tool to shift decision-making to the regional level. We are proposing to bring the North Sea, one of our richest fishing grounds, under such a multi-annual plan. Its long-term approach is not only aimed at improving the conservation of stocks, but also at increasing predictability for our fishermen in the long run," said Karmenu Vella, EU Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries.

The proposal requires the EU to set catch limits that restore and maintain fish stocks above levels that can produce the maximum sustainable yield (MSY), which allows the fishing industry to profit with the highest amount of fish from the sea, while keeping fish stocks healthy.

The plan defines ranges within which catch limits can be set. Fishing opportunities in the higher part of the ranges will only be possible under defined conditions and in line with the MSY approach. The plan also obliges the EU to take swift action when the sustainability of any demersal North Sea fish stock is threatened.

This proposal will replace the current cod recovery plan (CRP) as well as the plan for plaice and sole.

In order to improve fisheries' control, the proposal includes an obligation to land important species only in designated ports as well as new rules on the obligation to notify landings to authorities. The EC said the proposed rules aim to strike a balance between more flexibility for fishermen and more effective control: more fishermen will have to inform national authorities of their intended landings, but they will be able to do so at shorter notice.

The North Sea proposal follows the multi-annual plan established for the Baltic Sea earlier this year.

Contributing Editor reporting from London, UK

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