A Marine Scotland Science briefing with the fishing industry in Aberdeen yesterday, 2 July, to discuss the latest ICES advice, revealed that the annual increases in the size of the North Sea cod stock are continuing at a good rate and that fishing pressure (mortality) is well below precautionary levels. The cod stock is now at the same level as 1995 and ICES anticipate that there could be a further significant increase in the stock size next year.
Bertie Armstrong, chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, said: "This increase in the North Sea cod stock is down in large part to the massive efforts and sacrifices made by our fishermen over the last decade who have adopted a wide range of measures to conserve stocks. It should not be forgotten that these efforts have come at considerable cost and much of the fleet is now teetering on the brink of economic viability."
There is now huge concern among fishermen over ICES advice recommending a 9 per cent cut in the North Sea cod quota for next year due to poor recruitment of young fish due to natural factors. Fishermen are also facing a 15 per cent cut in North Sea haddock, a mainstay of the Scottish fleet and which is certified by the Marine Stewardship Council for the sustainable way it is harvested.
Mr Armstrong said: "The continuing increase in North Sea cod is great news but there is a real and urgent need to adopt a sensible long-term approach to the management of the stock, rather than short-term knee-jerk reactions which would prove extremely damaging to our fishing fleet.
"The final TAC for cod will be set following talks with Norway in September and a key focus of these discussions will be the need for the pragmatic long term management of cod that recognises that the biomass is increasing, fishing pressure is falling and that the stock is being harvested sustainably. Any further cuts in the cod quota will only lead to increased discarding, given the abundance of adult fish, and jeopardise the future viability of the fishing fleet at the very time when stocks are increasing. It is imperative that the Scottish and UK Governments work with us closely to press for management decisions that ensure the continuing sustainable catching of our stocks whilst at the same time providing a viable future for our hard working fishermen."