From: WWF
Published January 14, 2008 09:13 AM

Cod recovery plan goes adrift

Brussels - EU Fisheries Ministers have gambled on the future of Europe’s fish stocks, said WWF at the conclusion of the EU Fisheries Council yesterday night in Brussels.

At the December Council, EU Fisheries Ministers determine quotas for fishing in EU waters for the following year.

This year, for the first time since 2002, Ministers have conceded an 11 per cent increase of quota for North Sea cod (about 22,000 tonnes). The quota increase is based on early signs of stock recovery but Ministers failed to put in place compulsory measures that mean young fish stay in the sea to reproduce.

Only voluntary measures put forward by the fishing industry were agreed as a means of reducing the dramatic amount of unwanted cod removed from the sea and discarded in a range of associated fisheries.

“2008 will be earmarked as the year when cod had a chance to recover but was jeopardised due to lack of will to put in place clear measures to reduce cod bycatch,” says Carol Phua, WWF Fisheries Policy Officer.


The voluntary measures put forward by fishermen demonstrate a willingness to try and address the situation but could be construed by the cynical as a means of watering down the strong cuts in days at sea proposed by the European Commission. The Member States have succeeded in doing this as the Council of Ministers adopted only a 10 per cent cut in days, when a 25 percent cut was first proposed by the European Commission.

“Whether the industry’s plan will actually lead to fishermen avoiding cod at sea remains to be seen”, continued Carol Phua.

“As the scheme is voluntary, it will only prove to be effective if enough boats follow the plan. This will be a major challenge to industry and governments to prove they are able to recover the stock. If they fail to deliver, not only will they have wasted the only chance at recovery since 1997, but politicians and fishermen will be responsible for yet another ecological disaster.”

WWF criticises the minimal reduction of quotas, ranging from 8 to 18 per cent, agreed for other cod populations, such as the Kattegat, Irish Sea and West of Scotland for which scientists had advised not to fish at all. The real failure was not to agree specific measures to improve selectivity and avoid catching unwanted cod in the first place.

The ban on destructive fishing practices, including bottom trawling, in waters west of Ireland home to vulnerable cold-water coral reef is a welcome step for the protection of these fragile ecosystems. However, the agreement is weaker than the original proposal by the Irish government to close the area to all fishing.

With vessels fishing in the area, countries such as France and Spain have blocked a more ambitious deal and have negotiated an “opt-out” for pelagic fisheries, which will be permitted in the area through a licensing scheme.

“The closures demonstrate the potential for the Common Fisheries Policy to support conservation measures required under the Natura 2000 network of protected areas. Sadly the Council of Ministers failed to agree a complete closure due to the unwillingness of certain Member States to accept the principle of good management for habitat protection,” said Stephan Lutter, WWF International Marine Policy Officer.

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