June 6, 2006

EU herring threatened in North Sea, scientists say

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Europe's trawlermen should cut back
drastically next year on trawling for herring in the North Sea
as juvenile herring are not maturing properly, a respected
group of international scientists warned on Tuesday.

Serious reductions were needed in next year's catch due to
worrying falls in the area's herring stock, the International
Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) said, adding that
the EU's quota should be slashed by nearly 50 percent for 2007.

European Commission fisheries experts use the ICES advice
to calculate quotas for each commercial species for the
following year that are presented to EU ministers for approval.

For once, the reason for the low fish numbers is not
necessarily that there has been overtrawling and quota-busting
by some of the more voracious EU fishing fleets -- activities
that have threatened the survival of cod and hake in European

This time, scientists appear genuinely baffled and say the
main problem is that while younger herring are spawning
properly, they are not maturing and increasing the adult stock.

"Although the North Sea herring stock is currently in good
condition at 1.7 million tonnes, we know that there are lean
times ahead because of low numbers of young fish joining the
stock," ICES General Secretary Gerd Hubold said in a statement.

"Finding out why this is happening is the hard part. Our
surveys show that large numbers of larvae are being produced
but then they are not surviving, so we are focusing our
research efforts on trying to get to the bottom of this

To conserve North Sea herring for the future, EU vessels
should reduce their 2007 catch to around 240,000 tonnes from
this year's allowance of 455,000 tonnes, ICES said.

Changes in North Sea environment conditions or poor supply
of plankton for feeding might have caused the problem, it said.

Herring populations form a continuous chain extending from
the North Sea to the northernmost parts of the Baltic Sea.

A small oily fish, herrings move in vast schools and arrive
in springtime at the shores of Europe and America, where they
are caught and salted, pickled and smoked in great quantities.