Wednesday, 19 December 2012

About the cod

As we await the outcome of the Agriculture and Fisheries Council meeting it is worth remembering that one of the arguments is going to be about cod.

As Monday's story makes it clear, there is likely to be some disagreement over cod and what we are to do about it.

EU ministers meet on Tuesday for annual fishing quota talks. Richard Benyon said he would argue against cuts of 20% in catches and 25% in the number of fishing days.

He said scientists had told the government they were unnecessary. But UK marine expert Callum Roberts said cod levels were still too low.

Cod stocks are going up and it is questionable whether the scientifically unproven idea of ever more cuts in catches is the best way forward. This is what Mr Benyon told the BBC:

"We're not absolutely perfectly at the trajectory laid out in the cod recovery plan but cod stocks are rising," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"The problem with the cod recovery plan is that it is a bad plan - there's no flexibility in it at all."

He added: "We've got good scientific advice which says the proposed cuts to the quota will have a negative effect - it will actually result in more mortality."

He said that if the cuts - which would be implemented in February - came in, "fishermen, for example, will have less time to fish so they will fish closer to port, possibly where the fish are spawning, rather than where there are bigger fish so they won't be discarding."

He would go into the talks "abiding by science" and "working towards fishing to sustainable levels", he said.

Other scientists say that the only way to increase cod stocks further is to go on lowering the fishing effort. The unfortunate aspect to all this is that the decisions, such as they are, will be taken far away from the fishing areas by people who have no interest in it at all.

The BBC's Kevin Keane, meanwhile, said a "power struggle" was threatening to derail negotiations before they began.

Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) had been given a greater say since the Lisbon Treaty became law in 2009, he said.

And he said some legal experts had warned that, if the EU ministers decided to impose cuts, it could face a legal challenge by the European Parliament.

Thus, what we are likely to get is some sort of mish-mash of a political compromise that will satisfy no-one. That is how it will go on while we remain in the Common Fisheries Policy.


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