Conservatives demand ministers take action to save our whitefish fleet –

Conservatives demand ministers take action to save our whitefish fleet Published:  29 September, 2008

Brussels, 29th September 2008 — British Ministers must use today’s EU fisheries council as an opportunity finally to end the EU’s cod obsession, which has had a disastrous knock-on effect on the entire whitefish fleet when certain species are abundant, Struan Stevenson MEP, Conservative fisheries spokesman in the European Parliament, said today.

Fisheries ministers are set to discuss the cod stocks recovery plan, but Mr Stevenson is warning that the current system of micromanagement is causing misery for fishermen and forcing them to throw back (discard) tonnes of healthy fish at a time of food shortages, when there is significant evidence to suggest over-fishing is not even the main cause of cod depletion.

Fishermen who know these waters have long maintained that global warming, the North Atlantic Drift and industrial pollution, have as much to do with disappearing cod stocks as over-fishing. Temperatures in the North Sea have risen by around 2 degrees devastating the tiny phytoplankton on which cod larvae feed.

However, as cod is caught in a ‘mixed fishery’, it swims alongside whiting, haddocks, plaice, flatfish and nephrops (prawn) and although cod is no longer an important targeted species for the UK fleet, it is still caught as an accidental by-catch by vessels targeting the other species. The Commission and the scientists therefore impose harsh restrictions on the abundant haddocks, prawn and other whitefish catches in a vain attempt to save the occasional cod that gets caught up. These quotas have led to scandalous levels of previously healthy fish being dumped overboard after fishermen have run out of quota, and they would face punishments for landing it.

Mr Stevenson said:

“It is with a feeling of dread that UK fishermen regard every meeting of the Council of Ministers when ‘Cod Recovery’ is on the agenda. The fishermen feel that there is an on-going war of attrition over cod.

“Every year, tonnes of perfectly decent food is tipped into the sea, and more fishermen go out of business in what has become a futile attempt to preserve one species that has moved out of our waters anyway.

“It is a sad indictment of the disastrous Common Fisheries Policy that after 20 years of quota cuts, Total Allowable Catch restrictions, de-commissioning schemes, lay-offs, tie-ups, days at sea limits, emergency closures and redundancies, we have seen 60 percent of the UK whitefish fleet scrapped and thousands of jobs destroyed.

“Too many fisheries ministers believe that Cod is God. Many more fishermen will be sacrificed on the altar of the cod recovery programme before we finally wake up to the fact that the cod will not return until global warming is reversed and the North Sea cools down again.

“British ministers must make it clear that they want the EU to end its obsession with cod.”