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A 63% increase to 21,652 metric tons, that is the increase in the fishing quota for North Sea cod following the agreement reached last Friday by the UK, Norway, and the EU. In addition to the cod quota, the three countries agreed on total allowable catches (TACs) by 2023 for five other important jointly managed fish stocks in the North Sea, including haddock and herring. As with the Northeast Atlantic mackerel fishing quota agreed upon last week, the cod quota is also in accordance with advice from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES).

A long-standing vindication of Scottish fishermen

“It is heartening that the fisheries managers’ decisions reflect ICES’s very positive scientific advice on shared demersal stocks and in particular, a 63% increase in the TAC for North Sea cod”, said Elspeth Macdonald, chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation (SFF) following the agreement. “This vindicates industry’s view that the huge cuts suffered by our fleet over the last three years were not justified. We look forward to a full review of the North Sea cod assessment through the ICES benchmark process early in 2023, and to a future where fishermen’s knowledge and expertise can play a meaningful role in stock assessments and catch advice”, she added.

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The executive officer of the Shetland Fishermen’s Association (SFA), Simon Collins, was in the same vein. “This is absolute vindication for skippers who have always argued that swingeing cuts to cod quotas in recent years were excessive relative to the abundance of the stock seen on the grounds”, he said. “Deficiencies in stock assessment processes are finally being addressed, and the science is now catching up with reality, proving that fishermen have had the right of it”, he added. Collins went even further by asserting that the announcement “gives lie to the notion propagated by eNGOs that cod stocks are facing ‘extinction’, or that fish stocks in our seas are in poor shape – when in fact the opposite is true”.

Sustainability at the heart of UK negotiations

The United Kingdom, which has secured fishing catch limits worth £202 million (€235 million / $248 million) – an increase of £33 million (€38 million / $40 million) from last year – has claimed that sustainability has been at the heart of its approach in these negotiations, driving decisions based on the best available science to ensure key fish stocks are protected and support the long-term viability of the country’s fishing industry. All catch levels were set in line with, or below the level recommended by ICES scientists.

“I’m pleased we have reached agreements with the EU and Norway, and wider coastal states, to secure important fish stocks worth over £450 million for the UK fishing fleet in 2023”, said UK Fisheries Minister, Mark Spencer. “The deals will help support a sustainable, profitable fishing industry for years to come while continuing to protect our marine environment and vital fishing grounds”, he concluded.

Good news for Norwegian fishermen

Of the 21,652 tons set for the cod quota, 3,681 tons will go to Norway. Bjørnar Skjæran, Norwegian Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, has expressed his satisfaction. “The tripartite agreement is the basis for the bilateral agreements and it is important that we agree on total quotas for the joint stocks in the North Sea. Total quotas and their distribution are crucial for sustainable management. I am happy that this is now in place”, he said. “The increase in the cod quota is good news for Norwegian fishermen”, he added.

The Norwegian government has stressed that the cod quota is in accordance with ICES advice and involves an increase from a historic low in 2022. As part of the continued rebuilding of the cod stock, in addition to the closed spawning areas that the parties will continue early next year, during 2023 Norway will also consider closing fields in its area to protect small cod by the end of next year.

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