European Commission calls for cod fishing halt

The European Commission today called for a halt to cod fishing for the whole of next year off the West of Scotland and in the Irish sea in a bid to boost conservation.

The crackdown is part of proposed EU catch allowances unveiled today which signal the start of intense haggling over quotas for fishing fleets in the run-up to a final deal in December.

The Commission insists that, as usual, its annual quota recommendations are based on scientific advice on the state of key stocks and is calling on EU ministers to abandon the usual bidding war to boost national quotas.

Today's proposals include increased quotas in 2012 for nine stocks, including haddock, hake, herring, sole as well as cod in some areas, and reduced quotas for 53 stocks.

The package, including the planned freeze on West of Scotland and Irish cod, amounts to an overall quota cut for all fish of 11% compared with this year - the right level, said the Commission, to help stocks recover and ensure sustainable long-term fishing in Europe.

It includes a 25% increase in the West Coast haddock quota thanks to stock recovery, but Scottish Fisheries Secretary Richard Lochhead attacked the rise as "meagre".

He insisted the figure was far lower than the scientific advice would allow.

Scientific advice should be followed to safeguard valuable stocks, he said, and the first signs of haddock revival off the West of Scotland was welcome.

But he went on: "Seeing the haddock stock recover to sustainable levels should be a cause for celebration, yet the proposals announced today will only punish the fishermen who have worked so hard on conservation.

"Despite scientific advice recommending a 410% increase for the West Coast haddock TAC (Total Allowable Catch), the Commission have only proposed a meagre 25% increase.

"Not only does this penalise our fishermen unnecessarily, but it could also lead to an increase in discarded fish - something both we and the Commission have been working hard to reduce."

He added: "This flies in the face of the aims of both Scotland and the EU. We cannot talk about introducing discard bans whilst current discard-increasing measures remain in place. We will continue to work closely with the Commission to ensure the urgent removal of these measures, but in addition are calling for the Commission to urgently review and increase the proposed haddock quotas in line with the scientific advice."

In June the Commission unveiled long-term plans to ban the "discard" practice - the dumping of dead fish back in the sea - as part of a major reform of the Common Fisheries Policy.

The discards issue has been publicised across the UK by celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, whose "Hugh's Fish Fight" campaign has been endorsed by celebrities including Richard Branson, Stephen Fry and Ricky Gervais.

The CFP reform also includes a long-term quota system, to end the current annual haggling between member states.

But, until the reform is agreed, the system continues into 2012, with EU Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki seeking the closure of some cod fishing grounds because of the "poor state" of stocks.

Poor stock data is also hampering management of the cod fishery and "despite successive cuts in the TACs over the recent years, the stocks still fail to recover".

She insisted: "Our proposal's cornerstones are long-term management of stocks and reliable scientific data to base our decisions on, in line with our proposed reform of the CFP. This reform will deliver a fisheries policy fit for the future, based on viable fish stocks which will assure fishermen a decent income."

The proposed catch limits are based on advice from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea and the Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries.

The Commission has pledged to return all fishing in Europe to sustainability by 2015, and cites the state of stocks of anglerfish in north and north-west Spain and of cod in the Celtic Sea and the Bay of Biscay as examples of progress.

Source: PA