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Cod catches up

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In an annual meeting on European Union fisheries last week, ministers talked about the ones that got away.

Besides setting fishing quotas for 2009, rules agreed on December 19th are intended to bring down the number of fish that crews pull out of the sea and then throw back, dead or alive. Fishermen discard many catches because they are the wrong size or species — or, ironically, because a quota has already been reached. In the case of threatened cod stocks, for example, environmentalists have complained that a fish is tossed overboard for each one taken into port.

New mandates to prevent this waste include wide-mesh nets that let some fish escape (press release).

The ministers also raised North Sea cod quotas by 30%, citing a large intake of young cod in 2005 as a hopeful sign for the long-declining stock. Ministers said this compromise will allow fishermen to market more fish while catching fewer.


The cod catch allowed outside the North Sea has been cut by 25%, and quotas for several other species have also been reduced — although many by less than the European Commission recommended. Despite this, the Commission said that the agreement “respects the principles” of conservation of threatened stocks.

The WWF allows that tackling discarding is “a step in the right direction”. But Greenpeace, whose campaigners last week claimed to have shut down the quota talks, calls the new North Sea cod limits a farce that ignores scientific advice and could destroy the fishery.

Xavier Pastor of the ocean conservation group Oceana further complains that the discarding deal lacks teeth, particularly because it is difficult to enforce rules about what fishermen can and can’t do on their boats. World Wide Fund UK’s Giles Bartlett tells the Guardian that more outside observers are needed. In a pilot study in Scotland, the Guardian also reports, five crews will be monitored by cameras to verify that they aren’t cheating.

Top image: Punchstock

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