Britain will oppose proposals to curtail cod catches in the North Sea next year. Environment minister Richard Benyon last week pledged to vote against moves to make further restrictions in the time that fishermen spend at sea, and promised to oppose moves to reduce North Sea cod quotas. Benyon is to lead the UK delegation at the annual EU fisheries talks which begin on Tuesday.
“Our aim is to stick to the advice of our scientists while trying to get the maximum sustainable yields from the seas round Europe,” Benyon told the Observer last week. “Cod stocks are relatively healthy and we believe we don’t need to make further reductions in numbers we take from the sea.”
The decision to oppose further restrictions is controversial, however. Stocks in the North Sea have plummeted in the last decade. But cuts imposed on quotas and time at sea in the last couple of years have helped restore numbers and raised hopes that populations could recover. However, some conservationists fear populations are still vulnerable and warn that it may be too early to ease restrictions. As a result, EU officials have approved an agenda for this week’s talks that proposes further reductions in fishing times and quotas. Benyon said: “We think these are unnecessary. We are acting according to scientific advice.”
The EU’s annual fisheries talks are held in December and involve two days of intense negotiations that determine catch quotas, fishing times, net sizes and other issues for Europe’s fishing fleet for the following year. “It is 48 hours of solid, sweaty negotiations. It is known as a three-shirter session,” added Benyon. “It is a crazy, absolutely crazy way to proceed.”Benyon – backed by other nations and by many conservation groups – is now pressing for major changes to be made in the Common Fisheries Policy. These would replace the yearly talks with a five-year plan that would be flexible enough to allow local changes in quotas and times depending on fish population fluctuations. “We have an agreement in principle to change fishing policy in the EU but there are a lot of people in the fishing industry and in the EU parliament who would like to scupper it,” added Benyon.
The need for change was backed by Giles Barlett of WWF. “We have been overfishing Europe’s waters for far too long and stocks have plummeted. Unless we change the Common Fisheries Policy drastically, some species will disappear completely.”