THERE has been an eighteen-fold increase in north-east Atlantic commercial stocks now fished at sustainable levels compared to 12 years ago, new scientific data has revealed.
The EU figures show that 36 stocks are now fished at maximum sustainable yield (MSY) levels – a key indicator of the sustainability of a particular fishery. This is compared to 27 fisheries at MSY in 2014 and just two in 2003.
Fishing mortality – the proportion of fish removed from the stock due to fishing activities – is decreasing, while the proportion of fish stocks being caught at sustainable levels is increasing.
Many of Europe’s most popular commercial fish species, including herring, common sole, cod and horse mackerel, are now caught at sustainable levels in several areas.
European fishermen have employed numerous measures to achieve greater sustainability in the sector over the past 10 years.
There has been widespread cooperation between fishermen and scientists in an effort to both track stock trends and enhance fishing practices.
In addition, fishermen have committed to using more selective fishing methods and equipment, including introducing nets with a larger mesh size, allowing juveniles to escape, and sophisticated tracking technology to ensure only the desired fish are caught.
Javier Garat, president of Europêche, the trade body that represents 80,000 fishermen and 45,000 vessels across Europe, said: ‘These figures are testament to the hard work of fishermen across Europe who have shown real determination to fish in a more responsible and sustainable manner.
‘To consistently improve the number of fisheries at maximum sustainable yield is an enormous success.
‘While environmental sustainability is a key priority for us, it doesn’t necessarily have to come at the detriment of the two other sustainability pillars – the continuing economic and social wellbeing of the industry.’
The UK is represented within Europeche by two organisations, the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations (NFFO) and the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation (SFF).
The UK contributes 11,277 fishermen and 6,415 vessels to the EU fleet and catches just under 600,000 tonnes of fish a year, around 12 per cent of the combined EU total.
Barrie Deas of the NFFO said: ‘This latest data shows exactly how these three key aims of sustainability can be achieved hand-in-hand and the fact that the efforts of our fishermen have had such a positive effect in a relatively short space of time proves how their commitment is paying off.’
With the reform of the Common Fisheries Policy in 2014, these figures are expected to increase further, in particular with the new landing obligations and multiannual management plans.