THE Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and WWF have said scientific advice on sustainable fish stocks must not be ignored.
For the RSPB says that scientific advice traditionally takes back seat to the social and economic concerns of an increasingly beleaguered EU fishing industry.
At noon today the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) presented its annual recommendations on sustainable catches of key EU fish stocks for 2007. This will inform the European Commission’s proposals to the December Council of Fisheries Ministers.
ICES scientists from 20 member countries have concluded that many key stocks are still overfished, with sandeel and cod highlighted as in need of swift, decisive action to stop further damage to stocks, the industries and communities reliant on them, and the wider marine environment.
The Danish-led sandeel fishery in the North Sea is seasonal, ending in late summer. ICES has recommended that in 2007 this industrial fishery - which is not for human consumption but to provide fish meal for farm animals and farmed fish - should remain closed until recruitment is strong enough to rebuild the stock.
Sandeel recruitment in recent years has been poor, possibly due to rises in sea temperatures. This has led not only to huge economic losses to industry, but also to breeding failures of sandeel-dependent seabirds on an unprecedented scale. This summer in Scotland, hundreds of guillemot chicks died, with parents unable to find enough sandeels to feed their young.
Dr Euan Dunn, the RSPB’s Head of Marine Policy said: “We strongly support the ICES advice for zero catch in the North Sea sandeel fishery until there is robust evidence that the stock has recovered enough to sustain a fishery, as well as providing for the prey needs of seabirds.”
According to the RSPB, ICES scientists have said cod stocks in the North Sea, Irish Sea and West of Scotland should be subject to zero catch in 2007. The charity says this is the fifth year running that ICES has recommended zero catch for North Sea cod, although their advice has been largely ignored. Scientists say that despite lower catches, the stock is still being overfished, as it is caught as bycatch in other fisheries such as sole and plaice.
Dr Dunn said: “The RSPB welcomes the huge efforts made by the Scottish whitefish fleet to reduce its fishing power. However, we support ICES’ call for a zero catch. The spawning stock is still only a third of the size it should be to guarantee sustainability and ICES is right to advise extreme caution in order to rebuild the stock in a reasonable timeframe. The only ‘catch’ for cod in 2007 should be for accidental bycatch of cod in other fisheries such as the flatfish and Nephrops (langoustine) fisheries, and even these should be subject to stringent bycatch limits.”
The RSPB says ICES has advised a 2007 catch limit of 980,000t for blue whiting which, like sandeel, is caught for processing into fish meal and oil. Blue whiting is the biggest industrial fishery in the North Atlantic and ICES has this year proposed a catch limit which is less than half the 2 million tonnes which a trans-national management plan agreed, against scientific advice, last year. Scientists’ advice for a drastic reduction in catch – which is massively more than the slow ratcheting down of catches proposed in the management plan - is bound to be fiercely challenged at the December Council.
Dr Dunn said: “Regardless of the management plan, blue whiting is still being overfished, and scientists are particularly concerned over the excessive juvenile catch - which arises because the older age classes may have been fished out - placing the stock in jeopardy. The RSPB strongly endorses the ICES advice on blue whiting catch.
Conservation organisation WWF is also urging the European Commission and EU Fisheries Ministers to accept the ICES advice issued today and take urgent action to safeguard fish stocks across Europe, especially the zero catch for cod in the North Sea, West Scotland and Irish Sea.
In a statement issued today, WWF said the ICES scientific advice released is the best available and it believes that it is time the politicians followed it, particularly in relation to cod.
"Many key commercial European fish stocks are in a parlous state as a result of their mismanagement," said Paul King, Director of WWF Campaigns. "It is time the politicians responsible made serious commitments to recovering the fish stocks by heeding the best scientific advice available."
Dr Tom Pickerell, WWF Fisheries Policy Officer, said: "Short term political opportunism by the Council of Ministers has led to rapidly diminishing commercial fish stocks without any realistic long term vision for the industry.
"Europe needs to rebuild a stable cod stock. Now is not the time to relax the measures that have halted the decline but to take a long-term view of fisheries management and follow the scientists' advice in order to ensure a thriving industry for the future. We need to ensure that Fisheries Ministers set in place the right set of measures that will secure recovery of cod and other species under threat as well as ensure a sustainable fishery."
Responding to the report, the Shark Alliance, a coalition of NGOs dedicated to science-based conservation of sharks said: “It’s there in black and white. The serial depletion of sharks must stop and stop now”.
The report details the dangerous depletion of several Northeast Atlantic shark species and calls for an immediate halt to targeted fishing. Policy Director for the Shark Alliance, Sonja Fordham said: “The findings of ICES are grim, but not surprising given the biological vulnerability of sharks. The European Commission must heed the warning of scientists and end the targeted fishing of acutely vulnerable shark species. If we are to avoid further depletion in European waters, the Commission must also act to reduce the incidental catch of sharks, tighten shark finning rules and improve fisheries information as part of an overall shark management plan.”
ICES has advised against targeted fishing for Northeast Atlantic spurdog, porbeagle and basking shark due to extreme vulnerability and serious population decline. Scientists have also called for reduction of incidental take of these species in other fisheries and improved data collection.
EU Fisheries Commissioner Borg has recently suggested the development of a Community plan of action for sharks, but has announced no timeline for the development or implementation of such a plan.
Sonja Fordham said: “European sharks are among the most depleted in the world and their decline raising serious concerns for the overall health of the oceans. The scientific imperative for immediate action could not be clearer. The sharks simply cannot withstand further management delays.”
www.fishupdate.com 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.
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