European Commission plans to cut fish quotas next year will jeopardise the sustainability of stocks and “make things worse”, according to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).
DEFRA fisheries minster Richard Benyon said the recovery in cod stocks would be compromised by the introduction of smaller quotas.
Speaking before the start of the European annual quota talks tomorrow (December 18), Benyon told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “The problem with the Cod Recovery Plan is that it is a bad plan. There is no flexibility in it at all.”
"If this cut to quotas goes ahead, it will result in more discards. It will be bad for sustainability.
‘Bad for sustainability’
As part of the Cod Recovery Plan, fisheries ministers will consider plans for a 20% reduction in catch quotas and a 25% cut in the days fishermen can spend at sea.
Benyon added that, if implemented, the quota cuts would reverse recent gains. “This is a serious matter. It [tougher quotas] will drive fishermen away from the good things they have been doing in recent years.”
A reduction in the time spent at sea could force fishermen to fish closer to port – possibly where fish were spawning, he said.
Callum Roberts, Professor of Marine Conservation at the University of York, told the programme that while cod stocks had improved in recent years, they still remained below critical levels.
“Cod stocks went down to an all-time low in 2006,” said Roberts. “Since then, they have improved but still remain below the lowest level scientists believe is safe to fish the stock.”
Roberts added: "We've introduced this cod recovery plan which is supposed to lead us towards the ultimate goal of more cod in the sea, and therefore more cod to catch."
The fisheries minister said his three priorities during the talks were to persuade fisheries ministers to abide by scientific advice, to work towards sustainable stock levels and to make progress towards ending fish discards.
Meanwhile, last month FoodManufacture.co.uk reported that more than 200t of illegal fish seized in one of Scotland’s largest food fraud investigations were to be destroyed.
The raid followed a complaint from local authority environmental health officers that fish were being illegally exported to Russia.
Officials discovered 207t of frozen salmon heads, tails, bellyflaps and frames (filleted skeleton) at a fish processing premises in Aberdeen.