New Data Reveals North Sea Is Teeming

15th July 2013 in North Sea, Sustainability / Environment

Leading UK Fishing Body Says Dramatic Species Recovery Across North East Atlantic Is ‘Nothing Short of Remarkable’

New Data Reveals North Sea Is Teeming

The National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations (NFFO) – the country’s most influential body representing the UK fishing industry - has cited revolutionary partnership work between the fishing industry and scientists as helping bring about recovery levels in North East Atlantic fish stocks which are ‘nothing short of remarkable’. The findings which cover species including haddock, sole and herring follow recent reports that cod stocks in the North Sea are reaching sustainable levels.

According to recent statistics release by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES), there has been a ‘dramatic reduction in fishing pressure’ across the main commercial stocks in the North East Atlantic over the last decade, after some 70 years of incremental increases. In some stocks, including cod and haddock, mortality rates have been halved.

The fall in fishing mortality levels is being seen as significant as it applies to all of the three main species groups; pelagic (including herring and mackerel), demersal (including cod, haddock and whiting) and benthic (flat fish including sole and plaice). The ICES statistics also show the trend applies right across the North East Atlantic, with white fish stocks – including those in the North Sea – rebuilding rapidly.

The fall in fishing pressure coincides closely with the period an array of ‘cod recovery measures’ were applied to EU fleets, although the NFFO also cites a major, Government funded programme of partnership work between individual fishermen and scientists as having contributed to the shift.

Beginning in 2003/4, the publicly-supported Fisheries Science Partnership (FSP) has seen the fishing industry and science co-operate in a wide range of studies intended to improve the sea’s fish stocks, biomass and marine ecosystems.

Managed by Defra’s Centre of Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas) and the NFFO, the research drive has harnessed fishermen’s generation-spanning knowledge and experience of fishing grounds, weather systems, fish biology and movements, with the exact methodical disciplines of marine scientists, investigating concerns and theories about the economic and environmental viability of commercial fishing.

Barrie Deas, Chief Executive of the NFFO, said: “The most recent ICES statistics are nothing short of remarkable and paint a long awaited, positive picture for both the UK’s fishing industry, as well as those of us who look to fish as a sustainable, traceable and healthy food source.

“Over the last decade, the relationship between fishermen and scientists has blossomed into a highly respected multi-project research programme, which has contributed greatly to corresponding decline in mortality across the main commercial fish stocks.

“Sustainability is now at the heart of the way the fishing industry operates and these figures are a major endorsement of the way practices have changed over the last ten years. There are some stocks yet to respond but the dominant downward trend is too well established, too wide in geographical terms and across too many fisheries to be dismissed as a blip.”

According to the most recent figures available, in 2011, the UK’s 6,444 fishing vessels landed 600,000 tonnes of fish (including shellfish) with a value of £828 million. There are around 12,400 fishermen, with the industry providing 14,331 full time jobs.

Fish consumption has risen steadily since the 1970s with four out of five households in the UK eating seafood at least once a month. The NFFO estimates the fishing industry has provided the basis for 200 trillion meals since the end of the Second World War.

Arnold Locker is a third generation fisherman based in Whitby. He has over 40 years’ experience of commercial fishing in the North Sea and is co-owner and chairman of Lockers Trawlers Ltd, which now trawls haddock predominantly, after taking the decision to avoid cod to support its recovery.

Arnold was among the first fishermen to join scientific missions on Cefas’ purpose-built, £25m ocean-going research vessel the Cefas Endeavour, for 30-day trawls to compare catch rates with different gear. He then accompanied the Endeavour , while one of his own vessels fished alongside, trialling and then adopting various cod avoidance techniques including larger net sizes, various mesh grades and net panelling.

The result has been that his boats now can now avoid cod, with a discard rate of less than one per cent, verified by onboard CCTV.

He said: “In the past, Scientists didn’t speak to fishermen and fishermen didn’t speak to scientists. Clearly, this was ridiculous, as both were needed for meaningful projects that would preserve the marine environment and improve its health where there were problems.

“Most UK fisherman are hard working, honest individuals, often running family businesses and who, like me, want to secure a legacy for future generations. Over the last 10 years we’ve worked hard to do this and at last, it’s starting to pay dividends in both the quality and quantity of the fish we’re catching.”