Haddock recovery 'set back by quota deal'
December 22 2011 Lewis Smith
Haddock - one of the species of concern
The recovery of haddock on the west of Scotland will be set back by the latest quota agreed by ministers, conservationists have warned.
Stock levels have seen a noticeable expansion in recent months but the 2012 quota has been set eight times higher than scientists advised.
Instead of the modest 25 per cent increase in quota for west of Scotland haddock recommended by scientists, ministers at Europe’s Fishery Council raised it by 200 per cent, tripling the quota from 2,000 tonnes in 2011 to 6,000 tonnes next year.
Haddock is one of four species that is on the Marine Conservation Society’s (MCS) fish to avoid list for which quota levels were set above scientific recommendations. The others are plaice from the English Channel, Dover sole from the Irish Sea, Bay of Biscay and western English Channel, and cot in Kattegut.
Another species, Atlantic halibut, had its quota raised despite being classified as endangered on the IUCN’s red list of threatened animals. It is also regarded by the MCS as a fish to avoid eating.
Debbie Crockard, of the MCS, said that just because ministers have agreed quotas for the haddock, plaice, sole and cod does not mean the stocks are in a fit state to be returned to the menu.
Haddock from the west coast of Scotland, she said, has enjoyed an increase in population but this has yet to be translated into a significant improvement in sustainability because so many of the extra fish are juveniles and have not reached breeding age.
Only once the extra fish have matured to the point when they can breed can they be considered to have improved sustainability levels, and the MCS fears that the tripling of the quota from 2,000 tonnes to 6,000 tonnes means the vast majority of the additional stocks will be caught and eaten before they can spawn.
She agreed, however, that the quota could have been worse. One option open to ministers setting quota levels in Brussels was a 10,000 tonne catch. To have gone so high would have all but halted the fishery’s recovery but would not have reduced the breeding stock size. Nevertheless, the fishery is still classified as one to avoid and rated as red by the MCS because stock levels are still are historically low levels.
“We don’t believe the spawning biomass is at a sustainable level. The stocks have risen but it’s not at a sustainable level yet – it’s still in a really poor state. It’s still below safe biological limits,” she said.
Similar problems face the English Channel plaice stocks for which the quota was raised by 9 per cent from 4,665 tonnes to 5,062 tonnes when the European Commission, following the scientific recommendations from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES), had called for a 10 per cent reduction.
In Kattegat, an area between Denmark and Sweden reached from the North Sea, the Commission had called for cod fishing to be stopped but ministers set a quota of 133 tonnes, 30 per cent down on this year but well above the zero catch regarded as the best option for stock recovery.
Ms Crockard said the Dover sole quota was 50 per cent above scientific advice, 6.25 per cent above advice for the Bay of Biscay and 5 per cent higher in the Western English Channel.
Fish to avoid and fish to eat lists are compiled for consumers by the MCS and reflect scientific knowledge of species stocks. Fish2fork uses the MCS advice when rating restaurants on their sustainable use of fish.
Atlantic halibut were classified as endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and put on its Red List in 1996 but there has been little scientific data on stocks since then.
Francois Simard, deputy head of global marine at the IUCN, said it was “a shame” scientific information isn’t “taken into account” as much as it might be but he recognised there is a tension between the science, the environmental demands and the governance of fisheries.
He added: “The Red List looks on a global level. You might argue some local fisheries have a really good stock level. I wouldn’t say that because a species is endangered it shouldn’t be at all fished. But the fact it’s endangered means we should be really careful to understand it much better.”
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