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Cod Abundance in North Sea Backed by Scientific Evidence

08 March 2013

SCOTLAND, UK - Reports from Scottish fishermen of a huge abundance of cod in the North Sea is a direct result of a dramatic decline in fishing effort combined with the introduction of a number of conservation initiatives by the fishing fleet, says the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation (SFF).

With dramatic video footage being aired on some TV news bulletins today showing a large haul of cod being taken aboard the fishing vessel Budding Rose in the North Sea, the SFF says the scientific evidence is also backing the experience of fishermen on the fishing grounds. The skipper of the vessel, Peter Bruce, said that when the film was taken he was 20 miles away from the closed (to fishing) cod spawning area and was actually fishing for haddock.

He added: “I was in contact with another skipper who was 75 miles away having similar experiences and he had to land 10 tons of cod to Peterhead from his trip. The recovery in the cod stock is not by any means patchy."

According to Scottish Sea Fisheries Statistics, the amount of fishing effort by the Scottish fleet has declined by a massive 70 per cent between 2000 and 2011. Furthermore, the latest scientific figures from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) reveals that the spawning stock biomass of North Sea cod has increased by 250 per cent from 2006 to 2012. Fishing mortality for cod (or the amount of fish being taken out of the sea) has declined by 43 per cent between 2000 and 2011.

Bertie Armstrong, chief executive of the SFF, said: “The decline in fishing effort and the amount of cod being taken out of the North Sea is quite dramatic and helps explain the relative abundance of fish that our fishermen are now finding on the grounds.

“It should not be forgotten that fishermen have made huge sacrifices over the last 10 years or so to reach this stage. The number of fishing vessels has dramatically declined and there have been strict effort controls as well. In addition, we have developed our own measures such as technical alterations to nets to significantly reduce discards and implementing real-time area closures to protect juvenile and spawning fish.

“In essence, our fishermen are by regulation taking much longer to catch much less fish, which has been achieved against a background of high operating costs. The important step now is to ensure that fishermen are rewarded for this increasing stock of cod and other fish through enhanced catching opportunities in the future. Survival of the fishing communities will depend on this.

“However, this must be achieved through careful fisheries management based on the science so as to ensure the continuation of sustainable harvesting that enables the stock to prosper. Our fishermen completely understand this - but given the cycle of time it takes for scientific data collection and analysis, the recovery actually occurs before official recognition. This first detection of increased fish abundance is made by the men at sea - the fishermen. Every effort is now being made to incorporate this early warning that fishermen can provide on stocks - which would equally apply if any stock was declining - into the scientific assessment process.

“With the horse-meat scandal and other food scare stories being prominent in the media at the moment, the recovery of cod and other fish stocks in the North Sea is a good news story for the consumer. Scottish fish is an extremely high quality food product that has a low carbon footprint and is healthy to eat. Our resounding message to consumers is to demand from retailers and restaurants more Scottish fish."

TheFishSite News Desk

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