On 19/12/03 European Union fisheries ministers agreed to lower the annual catches of certain fish allowed,and introduce new restrictions on how often boats can go to sea to fish in EU waters, which seems to be an attempt to reverse the continuing decline in fish stocks of certain species.

This new plan for the long-term recovery of plaice ,cod and hake alleged to be the first ever agreed by a majority of member states, which are facing the danger that some fish species could disappear from EU waters altogether.

Such a disappearance of stocks would be very similar to the experience of the Grand Banks in Canada's, where stocks of cod failed to recover from over fishing and the local fishing industry was almost entirely closed as a result.

Ministers agreed to a 66 per cent cut in cod fishing, but the ICES (International Council for the Exploration of the Seas) which advises the commission on such issues, has called for a complete shut-down of cod fishing to protect stock levels, but the compromise agreement reached by Ministers in Brussels allows fishermen to increase catches of non-threatened species to keep their industries alive.

EU agriculture and fisheries commissioner Franz Fischler, said: "This decision shows that the reform of the fisheries policy is not a 'paper tiger', or rather 'paper cod'. It takes account of the social aspects - fishermen will be able to continue fishing at a reduced level and will not have to stop altogether; but at the same time the compromise is also justifiable in biological terms since long-term recovery plans will be in force for the first time for endangered stocks."


Numbers of cod in areas such as the North Sea are causing real concern, with some scientists pointing out that they are well below safe and sustainable limits.

Marine scientists from ICES, have warned that a complete collapse in cod stocks, with no eventual recovery, is possible.

These new recovery plans, which have been customized to meet the diversity of each region, will replace quota-setting, which has proved ineffective in protecting and sustaining fish stocks.

The plans involve not only tighter quotas and restrictions on the amount of days boats are at sea but tighter policing to enforce these new regimes.

Illegal fishing in some areas has been blamed as a factor in the decline of North Sea cod, so it seems that the European Commission are going to force the UK to improve its enforcement regimes, if it is not seen to be taking serous steps to protect fish stocks.

This new cod recovery plan aims to increase stocks in the North Sea by around 30 per cent a year and reach sustainable levels over the next five to 10 years.

december 2003