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Cod Recovery and Discards Will Dominate December Council
Cod recovery is expected again to dominate this year’s December Council
UK Priorities in preparation
Cod recovery is expected again to dominate this year’s December Council; however the discards generated by unthinking cuts in TACs are also likely to be a major factor in the negotiations. These were the conclusions reached at a recent stakeholders’ meeting with UK fisheries ministers in which the UK’s priorities were discussed.
There a strong scientific case for a significant increase in the TAC for North Sea cod in 2009, not least because the current TAC is generating massive discards of marketable cod. The challenge for all parties – European Commission, Norway, member states and the fishing industry is to ensure that a significant rise in the TAC is associated with an increase in cod landings but not an increase in cod mortality. The NFFO is currently trialling cod avoidance plans that limit each participating vessel to its legitimate quota of cod and avoids discards of marketable cod. The eliminator trawl may have a role to play, along with an expansion of real time closures that direct the fleets away from concentrations of juvenile cod.
“We think that cod avoidance plans are the future”, said Arnold Locker whose vessel Our Lass II is one of the boats participating in the trials. “As long as the TAC is set at a reasonable level in relation to the stock abundance, through cod avoidance plans, we can fish for our target species without discarding cod.”
A major UK and NFFO objective is keeping the South West’s mixed fisheries out of the cod recovery plan –and the days at sea restrictions that are at the heart of it. On paper there is a very strong case for success, given that the trends in the fishery – fishing effort falling and biomass increasing – suggest that current measures, including the Trevose closed season/area are working. There are however, concerns over how strong the French will resist effort control, and as they hold the Presidency this year this is a real worry.
Discards and TACs
The Commission has indicated that it is likely to adopt an approach that proposes TAC cuts across many stocks. This especially hardnosed approach is driven by Commission fears that the fisheries and marine affairs directorate could disappear into DG Environment in the wake of a very critical report by the EU Court of Auditors. Although the Commission is looking over its shoulder and taking an increasingly hard line, recent years have demonstrated that in mixed fisheries reliance on cuts in quotas in, even when associated with days at sea controls, often lead directly to an increase in discards.
Spurdog, cod, porbeagle, skates and rays, whiting, sole and pollack could all see an increase in discards in 2009 unless a more intelligent approach is found. There is no silver bullet but alternatives tailored to the specific characteristics of the fisheries are available. A longer reference period for spurdog would, for example, allow unavoidable by-catch to be landed but would still discourage a targeted fishery and would eliminate the unacceptable discarding associated with a by-catch limit per trip. Similarly well tailored avoidance plans can offer a way forward but the Commission has shown itself very reluctant to forgo its tried tested and failed TACs and days approach.
It is clear that this autumn’s negotiations are going to be very difficult.