UK - Bill Lart, Sustainability Advisor for industry authority on seafood, Seafish, has commented on a recent report from Plymouth University that suggests decades of overfishing in the English Channel have left fishermen 'fishing down the food web'.
"Ensuring a sustainable future for the UK fishing industry, while managing fish stocks responsibly are our key objectives at Seafish, so we were pleased to see this recent report on the effect of fishing the English Channel bring this important issue to the public’s attention," said Mr Lart.
"However, we believe the report’s sole reliance on landed catches data paints an incomplete picture of the current situation in the Channel, and risks taking away from the significant efforts already undertaken to address the issue.
"In failing to take into account additional factors – such as changes to fishing strategies over time in response to market demand and new management measures, and the impact of natural changes in temperature and climactic effects – the report leaves itself open to questions around its robustness.
"Claims that cod and haddock are ‘fast running out’, for example, directly contradict established data from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES), which shows the status of these stocks has improved during the past few years.
"Moreover, the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy is set to bring stocks to Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY) in the near future, and has already significantly reduced overfishing in European Atlantic Waters, the North Sea and the Baltic Sea.
"Among stocks measured against their Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY), just 41 per cent are now considered to be overfished which is a sizeable improvement on the 94 per cent we saw just a decade ago in 2003.
"Meanwhile, the number of stocks estimated to be fished at MSY levels had increased from just two in 2003, to 27 by 2012, and with further improvements to the policy on discards under the new landing obligation, we expect this trend to continue in the years to come.
"Analysis of the practice of scallop dredging has also found that contrary to being an indiscriminately, and over used method of fishing, most of it is targeted on specific core areas based on analysis of echo sounder observations and knowledge of previous catches. Although we do recognise that scallop dredging can have an effect on seabed ecosystems, and have published a good practice guide for scallop dredging.
"Along with the EU Habitat Directive and commitments under OSPAR aimed at protecting vulnerable habitats in the North East Atlantic, the EU’s Marine Strategy Framework Directive is an important stimulus towards improving sustainability.
"As well as using data on fish catches, it collects independent information on demersal fisheries using research vessel surveys to determine the impact of these fisheries on the marine environment.
"As a result fishing practices have already been adapted to ensure fish stock sustainability, while protection measures have been brought in to protect the most vulnerable.
"For example, significant efforts have been made by the EU, ICES, DEFRA and the UK Commercial fishing industry to address the issue of declining Common Skate populations, with the species and others in the elasmobranch family such as Spurdog now protected under Zero Allowable Catch regulations.
"There is no doubt fisheries have the capacity to change marine biodiversity. The issue is to protect the more vulnerable ecosystems and examine to what extent management measures are required to ensure that effects on seabed habitats inside and outside the ‘core areas’ are sustainable. Just recently, we worked with Seafood Cornwall to develop a model to help fisheries in the South West become more sustainable by helping them to identify the areas with increased risk.
"The importance of collaboration should not be understated; fishers, government and scientists need to do more to work together to undertake research and address research. Seafish believes this will be the key to ensuring the sustainability of the UK’s fishing industry, and safeguarding our fish stocks for generations to come," Mr Lart concluded.
Go to the report from Plymouth University by clicking here.
TheFishSite News Desk