Experts Call for Ban on North Sea Cod

COPENHAGEN, Denmark, October 18, 2006 (ENS) - Cod fishing should be banned in the North Sea if the species is to survive in waters around Britain, according to the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES). It is the fourth year in a row the council has sounded the warning for North Sea cod, but European fishery ministers have repeatedly ignored the recommendation.

The council estimates about 50,000 tons of cod remain in the North Sea, but warns that the population should be three times that size if it is to survive over the long-term. Last year EU ministers allowed fishermen to catch some 26,000 tons of North Sea cod.

"Unfortunately we have not seen clear signals of recovery for the depleted cod stocks," said Martin Pastoors, chair of the ICES Advisory Committee on Fishery Management (ACFM). "These stocks have a very high growth potential, but the continued catches from these stocks in combination with very low recruitment have prevented a recovery."


Fishermen once hauled some 4 million tons of cod from the North Sea.(Photo courtesy NOAA)

The ACFM, which consists of 22 international scientists, analyzed the status of commercial fish stocks in the Northeast Atlantic and concluded that the overall status has not changed much from 2005 to 2006.

The committee recommends a ban on two other species - anchovy and North Sea sandeel. The anchovy fishery in the Bay of Biscay has been closed since July 2005 and is "still depleted," according to the committee.

The EU ignored the committee's advice last year to ban North Sea sandeel fishing and allowed 300,000 tons to be caught. In the late 1990s, sandeel was a million-ton fishery in the North Sea.

"Sandeel is an important forage species for some seabirds and efforts should be made to keep biomass available as prey for these birds," the committee said. "ICES recommends that the fishery remained closed until there is information available on the incoming year classes that can lead to a rebuilding of the stock."

The ICES recommendations, which will be formally released in a report Friday, calls for a reduction in the allowable catch of North Sea plaice, North Sea sole and blue whiting. The plaice stock has been below the recommended level for a number of years, the committee said, and recruitment has been generally low. Last year the EU allowed the capture of 57,000 tons of North Sea plaice - the ICES report recommends that figure be cut to 32,000 tons.


Tighter restrictions on fishing can hit fishermen and coastal communities hard.(Photo courtesy FWS)

The capture rate for North Sea sole is "not sustainable," the committee said, and should be cut from 17,670 tons to 10,800 tons. Increased fishing of blue whiting has put the stock under stress and should be cut from 2.1 million tons to 980,000 tons, the committee recommended.

Not all the news in the report is gloomy, however. Major cod stocks in northern areas, such as the Barents Sea and around Iceland, are large and productive and several other species appear to be rebounding.

"It is good to see that prudent management can safeguard and rebuild the valuable resources in the sea," Pastoors said. "The Norwegian spring spawning herring stock is at a high level due to a rational exploration strategy. Also the apparent recovery of the Northern hake stock is a positive signal."

There appears to be a shift to long-term management, ICES reported, and this bodes well for the future of many North Atlantic fisheries. In addition, fisheries representatives are taking a more active role in the ICES advisory process.

"The inclusion of first hand information from stakeholders at an early stage and the possibility for observers to follow the entire scientific process can yield better results and a better understanding of the scientific advice," said Gerd Hubold, general secretary of ICES. "We are very happy to see this development towards a fruitful cooperation between all those who have a stake in the conservation of treasures of our seas."