The European Commission has decided against a moratorium in favour of an improved long-term recovery plan for cod and hake in line with the latest scientific findings.

Speaking in the European Parliament, Fisheries Commissioner Franz Fischler said the Commission had already proposed a reduction in fishing effort a year ago in its recovery plan for cod and hake. Fischler added that no European Council decision had been forthcoming and in the meantime the situation had continued to worsen.

Scientific advice given to the Commission was for a closure of targeted cod fishing in the North Sea, Irish Sea, West of Scotland, Skaggerak and Kattegat. A ban on haddock and whiting fishing has also been recommended because cod are often caught as well.

“It has not proved enough just to reduce cod fishing over the last few years. Unfortunately, it seems that cutting quotas can lead to falsified catch declarations and illegal fishing. Scientists have therefore repeatedly warned that we must also reduce fishing effort so that we can better monitor compliance with total allowable catches and thus avoid giving an over-optimistic picture of the state of our stocks,” Fischler said.

The drastically reduced fishing effort for 2003 will mean a total allowable catch in the North Sea of 16,800 tonnes of cod, 66% less than 2002. The total allowable catch of haddock in the North Sea will be 31,600, which is 70% less than 2002, while the allowance for whiting will be 10,000 tonnes, 76% less than 2002.

In the West of Scotland, the total allowable catch of haddock and cod will be 972 tonnes of cod, down 79% from 2002 and 7,200 tonnes of haddock, down 49% from 2002.

The total allowable catch of cod in the Irish Sea will be 1,200 tonnes, 63% down on 2002, while the allowable haddock catch will be 7,500 tonnes, which is 20% less than 2002.

The Commission also proposes revised controls including requiring member states to inform the Commission of their fishing effort every month. It is hoped the plan will be adopted together with the fishery reform in December.

Fischler also expressed his awareness that the new plan would have serious consequences for the fishing sector in the short term and may put the livelihood of those that depend on the industry at risk. He appealed to member states to provide more resources for social measures.

In conclusion Fischler said: “I would like to give you one thing to ponder. The EU total allowable catch for North Sea cod next year could be just 14,000 tonnes. But as much as 200,000 tonnes could be fished every year if we managed the stock sensibly. This shows how badly we have looked after our resources."