According to the Commission, stocks of cod and whiting in the North Sea and to the west of Scotland are in severe danger of collapse, and the Northern hake stock in the EU’s western waters is also at risk. Scientists have warned that there must be a substantial cut in the level of fishing of these three species, as well as for other species found on the sea bed to cut down on the three species being caught as by-catch.

“There is no way round it: to have a fishing industry we need fish,” said Franz Fischler, European Commissioner for Agriculture, Rural Development and Fisheries. “Fishermen have acknowledged that they cannot catch their cod quotas and that stocks need to be rebuilt. This requires a two-pronged approach involving a significant decrease in total catches and measures to protect spawning and young fish.”

In line with scientific recommendations, the Commission proposes that the total allowable catch of the Northern hake stock, which extends from Skagerrak to the Bay of Biscay, should be reduced by 74% for 2001. For cod in the West of Scotland, the Commission proposes a reduction in the catch of 56%, and a 35% reduction in the catch of West of Scotland whiting. The measures also include a summer ban on the fishing of Baltic cod.

In order to prevent by-catch of these three species, the Commission proposes decreasing catch in all fisheries where this is likely to happen by 20%, and by 40% for haddock off the west of Scotland. In some stocks where there is no assessment of by-catch, but a link exists with the three species, such as the Norway lobster, skates, rays, turbot and brill, the Commission proposes a precautionary catch reduction of 20%.

For open ocean fish, namely herring, mackerel, horse mackerel, sandeel, blue whiting, and some sprat stocks, the Commission proposes holding the total allowable catch at the same level as for last year.

The Commission acknowledges the hardship that these measures will inflict on the fishing industry, but notes that if no action is taken, the stocks already at biological risk are likely to collapse, leading to the rapid collapse of stocks of other species as fishing pressure is redirected to them. The co-operation of fishermen is crucial to the effectiveness of these new measures, says the Commission.

A leading conservation organisation has recently criticised the lack of focus and accountability within the EU with regard to the subsidies being awarded to the fishing industry (see related story).

The Commission’s proposal on total allowable catches will be examined by the Council of Fisheries Ministers when they next meet on 14 December. The Commission intends to decide on additional measures at the beginning of next year, with additional rebuilding plans in place after further consultation with fishermen, scientists and national administrations.

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