‘Slight recovery’ for cod stocks

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The number of young cod in the North Sea has shown a slight rise for the second year in a row, research shows.

But the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (Ices) warned that heavy cuts in cod catches were still needed to help numbers recover.

It said numbers were still well below the historical average and called for a 50% cut on 2006 catch levels.

Ices’ findings will now be considered by EU ministers at the annual fishing quota negotiations in December.

During last year’s talks, the European Commission based its recommendation of a 25% reduction in North Sea cod catches on the assessment by the Denmark-based marine research body.

However, EU fisheries ministers reduced this to a 14% cut in the number of fish landed during the 2007 season.

‘Constraining catches’

Martin Pastoors, chairman of Ices’ Advisory Committee on Fishery Management (ACFM), said: “Our scientific surveys show that the number of young fish has increased, although only to half of the long-term average.

“These young fish could contribute substantially to the recovery of the North Sea cod stock.”

He added that an observed decrease in fish mortality was also a “welcome signal”, but warned that years of overfishing had taken their toll on the sea’s cod stocks.

“We recommend constraining catches in 2008 to less than 50% of the 2006 catches,” he said. “This should include measures to constrain discards and illegal catches.”

In its latest assessment of commercial fish stocks in the waters around Europe, the ACFM concluded:

– stocks of seabed-dwelling fish remain low and fishing pressures are still high

– positive signals of decreases in fishing pressure

– stocks of large deep-sea species are “generally more abundant in the North-East Atlantic

The committee said a number of other fish species were also under threat, warning that the outlook for anchovy stocks in the Bay of Biscay remained bleak.

It recommended that the fishery should remain closed in 2008 because the population of short-lived species had been “very low” in the past two years.

Blue whiting also faced an uncertain future, Ices warned. It said fish numbers were “declining rapidly due to a much lower supply of young fish and a fishing pressure that is not sustainable.”

ACFM, made up of 21 scientists, recommended “larger reductions in catches than have been agreed by the management bodies”.

However, the researchers said the stocks of Norwegian spring spawning herring were robust.

“Ices estimates that the spawning stock size is around 12 million tonnes and it is by far the largest stock in the Ices area,” they concluded. “The fishing pressure on this stock is low and therefore the outlook is very positive.”

Source: BBC News