EU cod plan faces new criticisms –

EU cod plan faces new criticisms Published:  12 October, 2011

PLANS to shape the future of the European Union cod management plan have come under fire.

Representatives  from the North Sea and North West Waters regional advisory councils (RACs) met in Brussels recently to discuss the scheme in the light of its evaluation by the  Scientific Technical and Economic Committee For Fisheries (STECF) and ICES, the International Council For Exploration of the Seas. They left with the feeling that  the meeting failed to shed much light on the plan’s immediate future, criticising its provisions for continuing  to tie the fleets into large, preordained, annual reductions of effort and total catches. The NFFO said the he key elements of the STECF Report are:-

North Sea* That fishing mortality declined significantly before the Cod Management Plan but has seen only minor reductions in the two years since the plan was introduced* Spawning Stock Biomass has continued to increase gradually but is still below Blim.* The cod stock has more than doubled in the last six years

West of Scotland* There are only indicative trends in mortality but it is believed to be stable. Fishing mortality is certainly not declining.* The spawning stock has increased but is well below Blim

Irish Sea* ICES only has indicative trends (weak assessment)* Fishing mortality uncertain but believed to be very high (around F1.5 equivalent to the level that crashed North Sea herring in the 1970s)* No indications of any recovery in Spawning Stock Biomass

The North Sea and North West regional councils made presentations to the meeting that stressed which included the following points:-:

* The openness in the STECF review process that allowed the RACs to participate fully, although responsibility for writing the report lies with STECF alone* That the Report endorsed many of the points about the weaknesses in the Cod Management Plan that had been highlighted in RAC advice, most significantly that:* fishing mortality cannot be expected to follow reductions in fishing effort (examples of the perverse outcomes generated by effort constraints were provided)* That striving to reduce fishing mortality through restrictive TACs alone has, and would continue to, generate high levels of discards unless a different approach was taken* That aligning economic incentives with management objectives is essential and that failure to do so had led to perverse outcomes* That various kinds of incentivised cod avoidance offers a surer way to rebuild the cod stocks* That a management plan which fails to take into account the mixed fishery and multi-species interactions is not likely to succeed

The NFFO said the possibilities now seem to be:* That the Commission authorises a new and more flexible approach to providing effort exemptions using Article 13, as recommended by STECF. This could, if used boldly, release significant parts of the fleet from effort control whilst encouraging cod avoidance and discard reduction* Following internal considerations, the Commission and the European Parliament find some way to fast-track changes to the Plan to accommodate STECFs conclusions, pending a much more thorough review and revision of the Plan in the context of CFP reform.

As the fishing industry braces itself for a further round of effort and TAC reductions required under the plan for 2012, the stakes could not be higher.

There was also  broad agreement that the current Cod Plan should be replaced by a broader multi-species fisheries plan.