The North Sea Cod (Gadus morhua) stock
Assessment made on 01 May 2004
ClassificationFisheries (Primary theme)
Coasts and seas
- FISH 01b
Policy issue: Is the use of commercial fish stocks sustainable?
The North Sea Cod stock is outside safe biological limits and in imminent stage of collapse. This situation is also true in all waters adjacent to the North Sea where this species is distributed. The spawning stock biomass (SSB) is calculated to have been below Bpa (Biomass precautionary approach reference point) for the last 18 years (since 1984).
The North Sea cod stock is outside safe biological limits, despite the measures that have been put in place by the Commission over the past two years, the most drastic of which was the temporarily closure of selected nursery grounds in 2001.As long ago as 1992, ICES advised that 'recovery of the cod stock would require, at minimum, a marked and sustained reduction of effort or even a closure of the fishery'. More recent advice in 2000 and 2001 suggested 'that fishing mortality on cod should be reduced to the lowest possible level' and re-iterated the failure of TACs to bring about the necessary reduction. This advice was only one step short of a closure. Advice in 2002 asked for closure of the fisheries. This recommendation was based on the facts that a) the 2002 death rate of cod, due to all factors, exceeded the rate at which recruits were being produced, and b) that the estimated increase in 2002 to 38 000t (from 30 000 in 2001) was still well below the previously calculated lowest value and there are fears that it too, may be over-optimistic (ICES, 2003). This advised moratorium was also supported by the Scientific, Technical, Economic Committee on Fisheries (STECF).
However, because of the economic and social impact of such a measure on the fleets concerned and after consultation with scientists, the Commission proposed, as an alternative to a moratorium, substantially reduced fishing possibilities for cod and cod-related fisheries, fishing effort limitations and control measures to ensure their proper implementation. Reductions in TAC alone are not effective in regulating fishing mortality. In addition to effort limitations control measures, technical measures should be imposed towards increasing effective mesh size and reducing discard, by-catches and ameliorating under-reporting of catches.
The Commission had proposed to reduce fishing mortality by 80%, which would have resulted in a reduction in TAC of 66%. The Council only agreed on temporary recovery measures for cod and set TACs at levels generally higher than those proposed by the Commision. Thus it was finally agreed a reduction of 65% in fishing mortality, which translates into a cut of total allowable catches of 45%. The estimated time frame for achieving the recovery objectives through the long-term recovery and management plan is 5 to 10 years (DG Fisheries, 2002). The target level identified in the cod recovery plan stands at 150,000 tonnes.
The EU is aware of the potential socio-economic consequences of recovery measures on the fleets concerned. This is why a raft of measures have been put in place to provide financial support to the fisheries sector during this restructuring period.
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This briefing is part of the EEA's report The European Environment - State and Outlook 2015. The EEA is an official agency of the EU, tasked with providing information on Europe’s environment.
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