Fishermen's leaders have warned that Scotland's fishing industry could collapse if cod catches are banned in the sea around Scotland.

Their warning came in response to a report by EU scientists claiming that cod catches should be banned to preserve declining cod stocks.

The report also advises EC ministers to ban the use of trawlers which catch cod as a consequence of fishing for other seafood such as haddock and prawns.

Leaders of the Scottish fishing industry have warned that a ban on cod catches could cost the country's economy £50m (US$77.3m), and could lead to the loss of up to 15,000 jobs.

Scottish Fishermen's Federation chief executive Hamish Morrison was reported by BBC Online as saying: "It is a truly draconian proposal.

"What they have said is that we are to stop catching pretty much everything in Scottish waters, and that isn't really a serious proposal.

Assistant chief executive of the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations, Doug Beveridge, agreed that the proposals were a serious problem: "If the advice were to be adopted it would have a devastating impact on coastal industries and communities.

"The industry is concerned that the scientists are basing their advice on information about fish stocks which was gathered in 2000 - and projecting ahead for 2003. But, in the meantime, surveys by the fishing industry indicate that the decline in cod stocks has bottomed out.
 
"We believe an assessment needs to be made of the recovery programme measures which are already under way and have been for a while."

In response to the scientific advice on cod stocks, the Fisheries Minister for the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Elliot Morley said:

"This scientific advice shows that many fish stocks of key commercial interest to the UK, especially cod, are in a serious and deteriorating state.

"Firm action is required. We must take the marine balance sheet back into credit, factoring in both the needs of the fishing industry and conservation. UK fisheries experts will now study the advice carefully."

Morley said that efforts to recover fish stocks are underway. Recovery plans for cod in the Irish Sea have been in place since February 2000 and in the North Sea and the West of Scotland since October 2001. Technical conservation measures regulating mesh size and catch composition are in place, and some important fish spawning grounds have been closed to fishermen in the breeding season. Morley admitted that although these measures are a start, they are not enough as cod stocks still remain outside safe limits.

Morley reported that the EU Council of Ministers discussed the Commission's December 2001 proposals for a North Sea cod recovery plan for last week, in Luxembourg: "The UK told the Council that the depletion of stocks must be dealt with urgently and that all options including the Commission's proposals for fishing effort controls must be urgently considered as part of a toolkit of measures which must recognise regional differences.

"Alongside this, the UK and other EU member states are currently renegotiating the Common Fisheries Policy, which will act to sustain stocks in the longer term."

The fishing industry is also being encouraged to put forward its own ideas, and representatives have been meeting with DEFRA to discuss the issue.

"Introducing new measures of any sort will cause difficulties for the fishing industry. But the collapse of cod and other species and the loss of livelihoods that would undoubtedly follow this would be more difficult still," Morley said.