MEP hits at Bradshaw's optimism –

MEP hits at Bradshaw’s optimism Published:  21 December, 2006

Struan Stevenson

UK FISHERIES Minister Ben Bradshaw’s optimistic view of the Brussels fish deal is not echoed by Scottish fishermen, Euro MP and Conservative fisheries spokesman in the European Parliament Struan Stevenson said today.

News trickling out from the secret talks at 3am had indicated that Ministers had agreed to cuts in the days that fishermen can put to sea, of between 7 and 10% depending on the mesh sizes of their nets. Such cuts are on top of the already swingeing cuts introduced in previous years which had seen the British whitefish fleet tied up for 16 days every month, with Cod TACs (Total Allowable Catches) slashed and quotas reduced year on year.

This was a cruel insult to our beleaguered fleet, already reeling from six years of cuts that has seen more than 60% of the whitefish boats scrapped and whole communities devastated.

“While UK Fisheries Ministers claim they will only be guided by science, in fact the science they choose to be guided by is highly selective. ICES (The International Council for the Exploration of the Seas) scientists advise the European Commission. They are driven by a tunnel-vision desire to see cod stocks recover in the North Sea. They blame over-fishing almost exclusively for the dire straits of cod stocks. They admit that their cod recovery plan has been an abject failure and that annual, draconian cuts and reductions in days at sea have not helped stocks recover, even with more than have the whitefish fleet gone to the scrap-yard. But rather than revise their management plan, they have opted for more of the same. Indeed this year they demanded a complete closure of the North Sea cod fishery.

“However ICES and the European Commission seem determined to ignore the advice of other, equally eminent scientists from the Plymouth-based Foundation for Ocean Science. They have published a new report showing that climate change and not over-fishing, is to blame for diminishing cod stocks. They have studied the movement of plankton on which cod rely for their food, for more than forty years and have found that the North Sea has warmed up, forcing the plankton 600 miles northwards, where abundant stocks of large, mature cod are now being caught around Norway, the Faeroes and Iceland. So all the cuts and closures and red tape and regulations that pour out of Brussels every Christmas will achieve nothing in terms of helping cod stocks recover. However, these cuts will spell certain catastrophe for the remaining whitefish skippers struggling to survive against a background of huge increases in fuel prices, large debts at the bank and a ludicrous cod recovery plan that forces them to tie up their boats for the greater part of every month. No industry could survive such an onslaught.

“Instead of crowing about ‘Another good year for British fishermen’, Ben Bradshaw should be demanding a complete re-think of the cod recovery plan. We cannot allow our demersal fishing industry to be sacrificed on the altar of the Cod God. The Commission must abandon current management plans and replace the quota system with a management plan based only on effort limitation (days at sea). If fishermen are allowed to land everything they catch during the limited time they go to sea, then the disgraceful and unsustainable discards debacle will be ended. This is the situation where fishermen who catch ‘out of quota’ or undersized fish are forced by Brussels rules to throw them dead back into the sea or face criminal charges in court. More than 1 million tonnes of perfectly healthy fish are disposed of in this way every year, due to these EU rules. Allowing fishermen to land all of the fish they catch would not only improve their income and end the horrific discards nightmare, but it would also provide scientists with a clearer picture of what is being caught and where, enabling them to prepare more accurate and realistic management plans. In addition, there should be provision for emergency temporary closures of fishing zones where fishermen are found to be catching young, immature fish.

” It is this kind of system that has proved to be a great success in the Faeroes, providing a good living for fishermen and maintaining healthy fish stocks. The madcap, mishmash of TACs, quotas and days at sea which Brussels insists upon can only lead to hardship and disaster.” is published by Special Publications. Special Publications also publish FISHupdate magazine, Fish Farmer, the Fish Industry Yearbook, the Scottish Seafood Processors Federation Diary, the Fish Farmer Handbook and a range of wallplanners.