Latest ICES recommendations on total allowable catch “flawed,” Scottish fishers’ associations claim

Photo: Shetland Fishermen's Association
Photo: Shetland Fishermen's Association

Responding to the latest advice from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) on total allowable catches (TACs) for 2022, three of Scotland's largest fishing associations have said the whole approach was "flawed" and in need of substantive reform.

In a statement released on its website, the Shetland Fishermen's Association (SFA) said that ICES is recommending reductions in the North Sea cod TAC of 10.3 per cent and North Sea and West Coast saithe of 24 per cent while advocating increases for North Sea and West Coast haddock of 154 per cent and North Sea whiting of 236 per cent.

"These numbers bear no relation to what our members are seeing out on the fishing grounds every day," said SFA executive officer Simon Collins. "With such wild swings in both directions a regular occurrence in recent years, it is clear that ICES needs to take a good hard look at the process and consider whether its modelling is still relevant.

"At the same time, our governments need to ask themselves whether they are willing to create insoluble problems for our fishing fleet simply because a computer says so. The computer has often been wrong in the past, and in terms of cod at least it is catastrophically wrong now."

Mike Park, chief executive of the Scottish White Fish Producers' Association (SWFPA), said it is clear that ICES "has not kept up with changes in the ecosystem," such as the migration of cod stocks, which appears to be being driven by climate change.

"The SWFPA and SFA ask the Scottish government to take seriously their suggestion of an independent panel to assess these numbers and put them into proper perspective," said Mr Park. "It is also time for urgent engagement by both the Scottish and UK governments with industry on this issue.

"There is no point in advising large increases in quotas for some stocks when absurdly small quotas for others caught at the same time prevent vessels from going to sea. Fish don't swim together in neat shoals of their own species."
Scottish Fishermen's Federation (SFF) chief executive Elspeth Macdonald expressed his dismay over the 10.3 per cent reduction in the North Sea cod TAC.

"This simply fails to reflect the volumes of cod that fishermen are seeing on the grounds, and on the back of huge cuts in the previous two years, is desperate news for the industry," Ms Macdonald said.

"No account is being taken of the distribution of different cod stocks within the North Sea and adjacent areas and ICES needs to alter its modelling to take account of such spatial considerations.

"We are aware that the process is moving towards the inclusion of such considerations but progress is too slow, with the interim modelling not being good enough to ensure a fair transition."

Ms Macdonald added that sound management of these fisheries becomes almost impossible to achieve when one also considers the fact that there are large increases in TACs for other species and serious quota constraints due to Brexit.
"Within a mixed fishery, as soon as you have low quotas for cod, you restrict the opportunities for fishermen catching these other key species."

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