Science sidelined again by ministers setting quotas
December 19 2011 Lewis Smith
Plaice quota rose despite advice for cut in English Chnnel
Fisheries ministers have set quota levels for the next year in excess of scientific advice in all but 14 areas of Europe’s fishing grounds.
Of the 75 fishing regions around Europe for which 2012 catch levels were set in Brussels 61 were above the scientific recommendations. In 53 cases the quota was more than 10 per cent above the maximum regarded as sustainable by scientific advisers.
Conservation groups reacted with a mixture of fury and resignation at the quotas – fury because the failure to follow the science threatens to further damage fish stocks, resignation because politicians routinely ignore the advice at the annual quota meeting in Brussels.
Richard Benyon, the UK fisheries minister, however, said that the British delegation had achieved the best deal that was possible while balancing the needs of conservation and the fishing industry.
He and Caroline Spelman, the Environment Secretary, claimed victory in heading off proposals to impose a “devastating” reduction in the number of days at sea that fishermen are allowed to operate as part of a programme intended to allow cod to recover.
“After two days of tense and frustrating negotiations I am delighted to have secured the best deal possible for the UK fishing industry and ensure the future sustainability of our fish stocks," he said.
He was particularly pleased to have convinced the European Commission that the UK’s interpretation of the rules on the Cod Recovery Plan meant fishermen taking part in conservation measures should be entitled to extra time at sea.
Among the quotas agreed was a tripling of haddock catches off the west coast of Scotland, doubling of herring off the North East coast, a 15 per cent increase in North Sea haddock, and a 15 per cent increase in whiting off the North East.
There was a 150 per cent increase in the cod quota off the South West and the region also received as 25 per cent rise in haddock and 15 per cent in whiting quota. Off the South East coat there was a 15 per cent increase in plaice and sole quotas, and a 9 per cent increase in sole in the Channel.
Mr Benyon also claimed success in protecting Northern Ireland’s nephrops industry by ensuring the quota remains the same as this year.
His arguments failed to satisfy the Seas at Risk conservation group which said that on average 47 per cent of scientific recommendations on catch levels have been ignored since 2003.
“Ministers remain under the illusion that overfishing will somehow save jobs,” said Dr Monica Verbeek, executive director of Seas at Risk.
“This disregard for scientific advice and for international commitments will undermine the future of the fishing industry and does not bode well for the ongoing reform of the Common Fisheries Policy.”
Despite scientific advice being ignored in favour of keeping fishermen in work, the fishing industry remained dissatisfied with the quota levels set.
Barrie Deas, chief executive of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations, said: "The casual observer would never guess that the stocks advice from the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas for this year paints the most positive picture for more than a decade."
Bertie Armstrong, chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, said the further cutback in days at sea of 15 to 25 per cent for whitefishand nephrops vessels – in line with the long term Cod Recovery Plan - was a “bitter blow”, “totally unwarranted” and put the viability of the industry at risk.
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