Wednesday

1st Dec 2021

Bleak outlook for North Sea fishermen

Fishermen’s leaders emerging from crisis talks yesterday with the European Commission painted a bleak picture for the future of the North Sea white fish fleet. But the Commission repeated its willingness to take the fishing industry’s views into consideration and to avoid the complete closure next year of key fishing grounds in the North Sea.

Alex Smith, President of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, described the talks as "very depressing". He said the Commission had given the industry the stark choice between a moratorium on cod fishing or 80 per cent quota and fishing day reductions for cod, haddock and whiting in 2003.

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Either option, he said, would mean the end for North Sea fishermen. If these drastic proposals go ahead, then "the game is up," he added. "You cannot just mothball the fleet for one year and then expect it to come back again."

Tough measures necessary

However, Jorgen Holmquist, the director-general of DG Fisheries, last night defended the Commission’s tough position to preserve endangered fish stocks. "In today’s meeting, the Commission has set out its ideas for a substantial cut in fishing mortality which would mean lower TACs (total allowable catches) and levels of fishing effort plus stricter control measures… Such measures may be seen as drastic but they are the most prudent alternatives to a moratorium," he said.

Gregor Kreuzhuber, the spokesman for EU Fisheries Commissioner, Franz Fischler, said that the Commission had not yet made a final decision on the proposed cutbacks. "The idea of the meeting was to float ideas and listen to fishermen’s fears," he said, adding that the Commission would come back with "clear and concrete" proposals based on the discussions.

Crunch talks

The final decision on the fate of the North Sea fishing industry will be taken by the EU’s 15 Fisheries Ministers who are meeting for crunch talks on 16 – 19 December. The Commission’s proposals are due to be initially discussed, however, at the Fisheries Council of 27 November.

Fishing representatives, in particular from the UK, Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands and Ireland, have consistently argued for the European Commission to take into account the drastic measures already implemented this year to protect cod stocks. These include the decommissioning of vessels and increased mesh sizes to stop endangered species being caught as "by-catch".

They say that the report produced by the International Council of the Exploration of the Seas - the basis of the Commission’s conclusions – used data compiled last year and has not considered the most recent information which shows a slightly more optimistic situation for the future of the cod.

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