September 20, 2008

Half of Scotscod Catches Being Thrown Back into Sea

By Frank Urquhart

SCOTTISH fishermen are being forced to dump almost half their catches of cod at sea because of the apparent abundance of the once- fragile stock.

If the trend continues until the end of the year, a staggering total of 12,000 tonnes of marketable cod, with a potential value of GBP 25 million, will have been discarded by the fleet, The Scotsman can reveal.

Marine scientists at the government's Fisheries Research Service in Aberdeen have told skippers that a survey, carried out between January and June, has shown that 40 per cent of landings of cod by weight are having to be discarded to prevent the fleet breaching tight quota restrictions.

In what fishermen's leaders have called a "monumental moral disaster", at least 90 per cent of the catches are above the minimum marketable landing size being thrown back dead.

The shock statistics will form the backdrop to a special summit meeting on discards involving industry representatives, scientists, environmentalists and policy-makers in Edinburgh next Thursday.

At the meeting, leaders of the Scottish White Fish Producers' Association (SWFPA) will be seeking support for a radical plan to prevent cod stocks being ravaged by allowing them to catch less fish by landing more for sale at the market.

They want the fleet to be given an increase in next year's cod quota in return for a series of management measures which will be implemented by the fleet, ranging from cuts in the number of days they spend at sea and fishing ground closures.

Mike Park, the executive chairman of the SWFPA, said scientists had informed the industry that around 40 per cent by weight and 80 per cent by number of all cod catches were being dumped at sea.

He said: "Because of the abundance of cod on the ground we are having to discard huge amounts of fish. And if we don't respond to the situation by increasing the total allowable catch (TAC) next year the level of cod discards will be far greater.

"We estimate that 95 per cent of the cod we are discarding are fish above the minimum landing size. And they could all be sold at the market if we had the quota."

It was, he said, an "absolutely crazy" situation which was likely to result in GBP 25 million of marketable fish being dumped at sea by the end of the year.

Under proposals being put forward by the SWFPA, Scottish fishermen would be given a quota increase next year which would allow them to land the cod they catch. As a consequence, they argue, they will need to spend less time at sea, helping protect the remaining stocks of cod and other white fish species.

Richard Lochhead, the Scottish Fisheries Minister, is backing the need to dramatically reduce discarding.

He said: "I am not alone in believing that discards are an environmental and economic waste - fishermen, scientists and the public are all in agreement on this issue."

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