A SCOTTISH Government minister has insisted there really are more fish in the sea as he rejected claims that cod stocks in the North Sea are being badly affected by reduced life expectancy.
His comments come after a report said fewer older fish are being landed at harbours and claims there may only be 100 cod aged over 13.
Fisheries Secretary Richard Lochhead highlighted scientific research which estimates there are about 21 million mature cod, equal to about 65,000 tonnes.
The government said 60 per cent of four-year-old cod are mature, rising to all cod by age six.
Mr Lochhead said: “The facts show that since 2006 the cod stock has been gradually improving. Scotland has played a big part in this by achieving the EU’s biggest reductions in the cod discards, while we have led the way with sustainable fishing initiatives.
“Our catch quota trials uses CCTV monitoring has been able to eliminate cod discards for the fishermen involved.”
Initiatives by Scottish fishermen have meant that cod discard rates have fallen from 62 per cent in 2007 to 24 per cent in 2011. Schemes such as the use of selective fishing gear, to help avoid catching undersized and unwanted fish, help to conserve the species, he said.
The government says scientific advice from ICES (International Council for the Exploration of the Seas) shows that there are 21 million mature cod (65,000 tonnes) in the North Sea with fish reproducing at a younger age. Some 60 per cent of four-year-old cod are mature rising to 100 per cent by age six.
“We are fully committed to ensuring a successful, long-term future for Scottish fisheries – and that means following the scientific advice and continuing our measures to fish more sustainably,” Mr Lochhead added.
“Wilfully misleading and sensational claims that selectively interpret the facts do no nothing to promote this agenda. Scottish consumers can be assured that both government and industry are fully committed securing a viable and successful future for Scottish fishing communities and the fish stocks on which they depend.”
Scientists have appealed for a reduction in the cod quote from the North Sea down to 25,600 tons next year. This year’s quota is 32,000 tons, compared to 360,000 tons in the 1970s.
The disputed research was carried out by Defra’s fisheries laboratory, the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas), although Defra later issued a statement insisting that there are about 21 million mature cod in the North Sea.
The report also came under fire from Scottish Fishermen’s Federation chief executive Bertie Armstrong, who fears it could colour the public’s perception of the industry.
“It was a complete distortion,” he said. “The trouble is it damages fishing’s reputation in the eyes of the public.”