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Brussels, 27 November 2002

Alternative to a moratorium on cod fisheries: Franz Fischler presents strengthened recovery plan for cod

Today, the Commission presented concrete ideas to the EU fisheries ministers to tackle the cod crisis. "We find ourselves in an extraordinary situation where there are so few cod left in certain areas that scientists feel unable to predict the effects of potential recovery measures on the stocks concerned. Stocks that not so long ago produced 200,000 tonnes of food from EU waters are now so depleted that we are in the dark as to what is going to happen to them. We have a moral duty not to let these stocks disappear the way cod and the jobs for Canadian fishermen - disappeared off the east coast of Canada. We also have a social duty to protect our coastal areas most dependent on fisheries. This is why, on the basis of scientific advice, the Commission is considering a strengthened recovery plan for cod, much stricter than the one it proposed a year ago, as an alternative to a moratorium. This plan would require very significant reductions in fishing effort and total allowable catches and strengthened technical measures and control. This, we believe, would combine protection for the stocks with the possibility for the fleets to continue fishing, even if at much reduced levels. Extraordinary situations call for courageous decisions. The Commission is considering a constructive alternative to a moratorium. It is now up to the Council to do its bit.", Franz Fischler, Commissioner responsible for Agriculture, Rural Development and Fisheries told fisheries ministers today in Brussels .

Reductions in fishing mortality

The levels of mortality due to fishing not only for cod stocks but also for stocks that are associated with cod must be substantially reduced. Based on estimates calculated by the STECF for the North Sea (Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee on Fisheries), the Commission is looking at reductions of fishing mortality of 80% for cod and haddock, 75% for whiting, 40% for plaice and 30% for sole in all EU fishing areas. There would be minor reductions (-5%) in the case of Nephrops and -10% for industrial fisheries. Such cuts would translate into substantial reductions in TACs, though not necessarily to the same levels.

The Commission, which will shortly table its proposals for TACs and quotas for 2003, would keep these substantially reduced TACs until scientists indicate that a minimum level of mature fish has been reached. It would then revert to the strategy defined in the proposed recovery plan which involves the setting of TACs at a level that guarantees an increase in the quantities of adult fish of a substantial percentage per year.

Fishing effort limitation

To ensure that the low TACs are complied with, it is crucial that a fishing effort limitation scheme be immediately implemented. The Commission considers the setting up of a simplified system before reverting to a more sophisticated one after detailed negotiations. This simplified system would apply a standard reduction in fishing effort to the fleets fishing for stocks for which fishing mortality has to be reduced. It would require an 80% cut in effort by the cod/haddock/whiting fleet segment; a 40% cut by the flatfish segment; 10% in the industrial fisheries segment and 5% in the Nephrops fleet segment.

The Commission proposes that the 1999-2001 period be taken to calculate the allocations of fishing effort. Member States would decide on the vessels to which fishing effort is to be allocated. Allocations would be expressed in terms of days at sea for 2003.

Strengthened control and enforcement

Two alternatives could be considered to check the implementation of days at sea. One would involve direct observation by inspectors of vessels present in the port and the other the application of a system involving the communication of entry and exit to a port to the control authorities using radio, VMS or logbooks.

Improved technical measures

The main instrument proposed is fishing effort limitation. The Commission would explore whether further increases in selectivity are possible. It would also hold discussions with the industry on the possibility of new industry initiatives in making fishing gear more selective.

Associated species

While the relationship of cod with haddock, plaice, sole and whiting outside the North Sea has not been quantified, the Commission would adopt the same percentage reductions for these species as in the North Sea because the fisheries mixtures are similar in nature. For other stocks caught with cod, a 10% cut in the TACs would be proposed, except for Nephrops and saithe.

Scientific advice indicates that fishing mortality should substantially be reduced on stocks other than cod for their own conservation. These include hake, anglerfish, plaice, sole and haddock. In cases where reductions are recommended both for the sake of cod recovery and, at the same time, to conserve the stocks concerned, these reductions would be the highest of the two figures, not the sum of the two. This means, say for hake, that there would be no further cut beyond what is required for its own conservation.


A year ago, the Commission presented a recovery plan for cod and hake in response to a request by the Council. This proposal has still not been adopted by the Council. The situation of cod stocks is now so alarming that the measures proposed in this recovery plan are no longer sufficient to ensure their recovery. Any alternative to a moratorium on cod fisheries as advised by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) would require agreement on an improved recovery plan for cod.

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