North Sea cod population recovering, scientists say

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The Independent Online

Next year's North Sea cod catch should be restricted to less than half 2006 levels despite evidence that fish stocks are increasing, scientists said yesterday.

The International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (Ices) said the amount of cod caught in the North Sea, eastern English Channel and Skagerrak strait between Norway and Denmark should be more than halved in 2008 to enable populations to recover further.

But the recommendation from the Ices' Advisory Committee on Fishery Management is less drastic than in previous years, when it has advocated a total ban on cod fishing in the North Sea.

There is hope that levels of cod can be built up because the 2005 generation of fish is a bigger cohort than in previous years, the scientists said.

Martin Pastoors, the chairman of the advisory committee, said: "Our scientific surveys show that the number of young fish has increased, although only to half the long-term average.

"These young fish could contribute substantially to the recovery of the North Sea cod stock. We also observe a decrease in mortality, which is a welcome signal in response to the management efforts."

However, the scientists have recommended a zero catch of cod in the west of Scotland, Rockall, the Irish Sea and the Celtic Sea because stocks were significantly depleted.

The scientists raised concerns about the blue whiting, and called for larger reductions in catches than have previously been agreed. The committee also said the anchovy fishery in the Bay of Biscay should remain closed as there were very few adult fish in the population there.

Fishermen's leaders welcomed the scientists' findings. The Scottish Fishermen's Federation chief executive, Bertie Armstrong, said: "This is excellent news, reflecting scientific proof of what the fishermen had been reporting for some time – that cod was recovering in the North Sea."