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Questions and Answers - Emergency measures to remove haddock from catch composition rules in West of Scotland

Press release - 23/02/2012

What did the catch composition rules intend to achieve?
The catch composition rules were put in place in 2009 to reduce fishing mortality by preventing a targeted fishery for cod, haddock, and whiting. The catches of all three stocks had substantially reduced, and they were considered to have collapsed. The rules were to allow for stocks to recover, but only the haddock stock has improved since.

Why has the state of the haddock stock improved?

The exact reason is uncertain. The favourable environmental conditions may have resulted in fish reproducing more, with an abundance of fish surviving to maturity. As a result, the number of fish available for fishermen to catch increased. It is now necessary to manage the stock responsibly towards Maximum Sustainable Yield level.

What purpose does retaining the catch composition rules have? Why only remove haddock?

Emergency measures can only be used to address instances of a serious and immediate threat. In this case the threat is the potential increase in discarding of haddock and the adverse impact this would have on the stock. There was no justification to amend the rules in respect with cod and whiting, as these stocks are still in a very poor state and require ongoing protective measures. Removing these two species from the catch composition will not offer them any additional protection. There are therefore no grounds on which to remove them.

Why are emergency powers necessary?

There have been ongoing concerns over the level of haddock discards. While fishermen have a responsibility to fish in a manner that avoids discards, the increasing abundance of haddock makes this more difficult. Unless action was taken, the levels of discarding would increase dramatically. There was an immediate need to act, to prevent this wasteful practice from increasing.

Emergency powers allow to address a serious and immediate threat to the conservation of a marine resource or stock. To undertake a more involved legal process would result in a delay and a further damage to the stock. However, these measures are temporary and the review of technical measures in 2012 will need to consider more permanent measures for the longer term management of the stock.

Is the threat to the stock serious?

The Commission identified two potential threats of inaction.

Firstly, marketable fish that could be legitimately landed would continue to be discarded. This would increase with an increased number of fish becoming available for catches in 2012. The rules currently in force would allow fishermen to land only as much haddock as 30% of their total catch. Added up, the quotas available and the restrictions on landings, which force fishermen to discard, would inflict a mortality on the stock far beyond what is acceptable. This would prevent the stock from benefitting from the current favourable environmental conditions to secure its rebuilding.

Secondly, as fishermen pursue their increased 2012 fishing opportunities for haddock, there is a risk of increased fishing mortality of other stocks, including the two other whitefish stocks (cod and whiting), which have not recovered and still require protective actions.

Why did the Commission allow for an increase in fishing opportunity, knowing that this would result in an increase of discarding?

The previous TAC was severely restricted, as the biomass of the stock was below safe biological limits. Haddock are a species which, given the right environmental conditions, can rebuild reasonably quickly. The current favourable environmental conditions in the West of Scotland have allowed it, and the mature fish are now entering the various fisheries. If provided with adequate protection, these fish will contribute to the rebuilding of the stock. The increase is reflected in the scientific advice, which in 2011 identified, on the basis of a Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY) approach, a potential for a TAC increase of over 400%.

The increase agreed at the Fisheries Council in December 2011 was substantially less than that. The Council recognised an opportunity to help rebuild this depleted stock even while allowing for increased fishing opportunities. Even without an increase in the TAC the rational exploitation of the stock requires that wasteful practices, such as this instance of regulatory-induced discarding, are addressed.

What will happen after the initial 6 months?

The temporary measures will be in place for 6 months and may be extended once only for further 6 months. This gives time for a debate and agreement on the measures necessary for the longer term management of the stock. This will ensure that the prerogative of the EU legislator, namely the Council and Parliament, is respected. Any measure other than the emergency one must be subject to the normal legislative process.

In addition, the Commission will be reviewing the technical conservation legislation during 2012 and appropriate measures can be considered during this process.

These rules simply permit a directed fishery. How can that provide protection to the stock?

The increase in biomass is sufficient to allow a directed fishery. This has been identified in the previous scientific advice. A directed fishery allows for the rational use of the resource without the level of discarding that would be associated with the by-catch fishery. In fisheries where haddock remains a by-catch, the removal of artificial limits allows fishing opportunities to be more representative of the actual catch.

It remains important for fishermen and managers to ensure that the stock is fished in a responsible manner, and the necessary steps are taken to avoid excessive discards. The removal of the catch composition requirements allows them more freedom to achieve this. 

See also:   Fisheries: Commission acts to reduce discards in the West of Scotland