Fishing levels set too high as Government claims boost for fishers

By: Clare Fischer
Date posted: 13 December 2017

After the annual December talks in Brussels to decide the catch levels for fishing in EU waters, MCS says it’s particularly concerned about the lack of progress for some stocks ahead of Brexit and the continued failure to improve the seabass stock.

© Kate Wilson

The UK will have sole responsibility for making sure the seas around our coasts are healthy and sustainable. We need to take that responsibility seriously.

Debbie Crockard,
MCS Senior Fisheries Policy Advocate

MCS says that this year a number of stocks will continue to be fished above levels advised by scientists – some of which are found in UK waters including haddock in the Southern Celtic sea and English Chanel, herring in the Irish sea, Celtic sea and off the South West of Ireland and whiting stocks in the West of Scotland and Irish sea, where a zero catch is advised by scientists.

MCS says that although seabass remains a significant concern it’s pleased to see that further measures are being applied to limit the catch of the stock.

Last year the hope was to cut commercial catches by 50% but it is assumed that only a 17% cut was achieved. To allow the stock to increase by 10% next year, scientists have advised that total catches – targeted, recreational and by-catch - should be no more than 470tonnes. Spatial measures such as moving on from an area where seabass are being caught or improved selectivity of gears could provide additional reductions in catches.

The reformed Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) requires all harvested stocks to be fished at sustainable levels by 2020 (at the latest) and while there’s been a shift towards setting fishing opportunities in line with scientific advice this progress has been slow.

Debbie Crockard, MCS Senior Fisheries Policy Advocate says: “The number of fish stocks managed at sustainable levels has been increased to 53 which is 9 more than last year but the reality of the situation is that to meet the 2020 deadline we need to act urgently to further align fishing opportunities with how much we can sustainably remove.”

Debbie Crockard says that if Brexit goes ahead as planned, the UK will no longer be part of these discussions after 2019, making this our penultimate December council. “We’ll be negotiating as an independent Coastal State to agree our share of North Atlantic stocks which span UK, EU and other coastal states waters (such as Norway). So it’s absolutely vital the UK governments ensure that fishing levels are sustainably set particularly if we are to meet the ambition of the Secretary of the State for the Environment who has made strong statements promising a green Brexit and sustainable fisheries.”

Following the negotiations in Brussels, Fisheries Minister George Eustice said: “The UK has long championed sustainable fishing and that is starting to yield results in some areas, with a recovery in key stocks and increased quota as a result.

“Challenges remain in areas like the Celtic Sea and on iconic species such as bass so further restrictions have been needed.

“As we prepare to leave the EU, we will place science-based fisheries management at the heart of future policy.”

The combined issues around plastic pollution, overfishing and climate change make it even more essential that we manage our seas in a way which restores and maintains their biodiversity to ensure their ability to adapt to threats is not impeded says Debbie Crockard. “Setting fishing levels in line with scientific advice to allow stocks to recover, improve and be maintained at healthy levels is essential in underpinning a long-term sustainable fishing industry.

“We need to step up to the plate, the UK will have sole responsibility for making sure the seas around our coasts are healthy and sustainable. We need to take that responsibility seriously. Now.”

Environmental legal charity ClientEarth said that despite legal requirements in the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy for fishing to be sustainable by 2020 at the latest, catch limits for many fish stocks were still being set too high.

They criticised catch limits for whiting, sole, herring and plaice in and around the Irish Sea, some of which are stocks that are “dangerously depleted” and where the scientific advice recommends zero catches.

ClientEarth lawyer Flaminia Tacconi said: “The 2018 fishing quotas mean overfishing continues for many stocks, including several vulnerable ones like whiting off the coast of Scotland and Ireland.

“Ministers must be more ambitious to make fishing in EU waters sustainable.”

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Did you know?…

Over the last century, we have lost around 90% of the biggest predatory oceanic fish, such as tuna, swordfish and sharks

Over 3,000 sq km of our seabed is now protected from bottom-towed gear

Farmed marine fin fish production in Scotland is estimated to increase by 30% between 2014-2020

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