Another blow for North Sea fishermen Oct03

SCIENTISTS advising the European Union on fish quotas have recommended a complete ban on cod fishing in the North Sea. If executed, jobs in the industry will go and whole fishing communities could be destroyed.


The latest report from the scientists at the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (Ices) calls for drastic action from the European Commission and national fisheries ministers from member states, to implement zero catches in order to rebuild stocks.


The threat to our fishing industry is very real. Last year, Ices advised a ban on fishing for North Sea cod and in December, the EU responded with a devastating 45 per cent cut in cod fishing quotas. These savage measures were only supposed to remain in place until July at the latest. However, Commission delays in publishing their long-term recovery plans, means our beleaguered whitefish fleet will have to suffer this harsh regime for almost twice as long as originally intended. The fact that our fishermen will suffer these measures for almost a full year is beyond comprehension.


These new findings of Ices will bring our fishing industry to its knees. It is yet another bitter blow from the Common Fisheries Policy (CPF). Ices maintains that the minimum recommended stock size for cod in the North Sea is 150,000 tonnes but the estimated size is 52,000. They propose no more catches until stocks reach 70,000.


Their findings contrast those of the Foundation for Ocean Science which last week confirmed that over fishing was not the only cause for a decline in fish stocks in the North Sea. The Foundation discovered that record sea temperatures, as a result of global warming, are destroying the plankton which underpin the entire marine food chain. Cold-water species of plankton have been driven north to colder waters and been replaced by smaller, warm-water species which are less nutritious.


Fishing is clearly not the only contributor to falling fish stocks and it is time the EU stopped penalising our fishermen and the communities which depend on the industry along Britain's east coast.


The experience of the Canadian island of Newfoundland should deliver a warning to the EU. The Canadian government imposed a total cod fishing ban off the island's shores in 1992 when once abundant populations of cod suddenly collapsed. The economic consequences on the surrounding area were huge and the community was altogether destroyed. The alarming thing about the experience of Newfoundland is that despite 10 years of a cod fishing ban, the stocks have not recovered.


The decision on whether to implement Ices' recommendations will be taken at several meetings of EU fisheries ministers in the lead-up to Christmas. The EU will call for drastic action to be taken but will our Labour Government sell us out?


Conservatives have pledged to take the UK out of the Common Fisheries Policy and to repatriate fisheries control to Westminster. The only way to save Britain's precious fishing heritage is to renegotiate our treaty obligations.