Key Fish Stocks in Critical State

  • Marine Institute publish 'Stock Book' (Annual Review of Fish Stocks 2003 with Management Advice for 2004).
  • Cod stocks in Irish Sea may take 7-8 years to recover Fisheries advice for 2004 'area based' rather than 'species based'.
  • Zero Catch for Cod recommended on Donegal- Rockhall area.
  • EU advocate fishing effort (days at sea) and reduced discarding (throwing back unwanted fish) as way forward.

The Marine Institute published the latest scientific advice on the state of fish stocks, focusing on those commercially exploited by Ireland.  This advice, from the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES), the Scientific Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries (STECF) and the Marine Institute's own scientists, has been compiled into the Institute's annual 'Stock Book'.  This Book was recently presented to Mr. Dermot Ahern, Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources and is a valuable reference to be used by the Minister, Irish managers and industry as briefing material in the run up to the negotiations at the EU Fisheries Council in December.  This meeting will set the amount of fish that can be caught in 2004 and is critical for the Irish fishing industry.

"Fish Stocks in the EU are not in good shape and it is essential that we begin to rebuild this resource if fishing is to be a sustainable industry" explains Dr. Paul Connolly, Director of Fisheries Science Services at the Marine Institute. "These are very difficult times for the fishing industry and there are some hard decisions to be made by managers. It is essential that scientists, managers and industry continue to work together to find solutions."

Scientists from the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES) released the latest advice on the state of fish stocks in early November. This advice will be used by the EU to formulate the Total Allowable Catches (TAC's) and national quotas for 2004 and is therefore very significant for the fishing industry. Scientific data shows that some key whitefish stocks (cod, whiting, hake) in the waters around Ireland are in a critical state and in need of rebuilding.  However, most pelagic stocks (mackerel, horse mackerel) are in a healthy state.

In the past, scientific advice has been based on single stocks (e.g. cod in the Irish Sea).  However, most fisheries catch a mix of species (e.g. cod, whiting, haddock, and plaice). The dilemma has always been how do you manage the fishery if you want to protect stocks under threat (e.g. cod) but let the fishing continue on more plentiful stocks (e.g. haddock)?  The problem of mixed fisheries advice is the subject of major discussions among fisheries scientists at ICES. 

In those fisheries which catch one species (e.g. pelagic fisheries like mackerel), the mixed fisheries problem is not an issue and the advice is given for the stock.

This year, the ICES fisheries advice was 'area based' rather than 'species based' (i.e. advice for the Irish Sea rather than just for Irish Sea cod).   The advice for the waters around Ireland was therefore based on;

Irish Sea Area,

Donegal -Rockhall Area,

Celtic Sea and west of Ireland Area.

Pelagic Stocks (e.g. mackerel, herring)     

In the Irish Sea, there are very serious concerns about cod and whiting, while stocks of sole are over fished. Recent work has shown that it may take 7-8 years to recover the cod stock.  Discarding (throwing back of unwanted fish) is a major problem in the Irish Sea particularly in the prawn fishery and scientists are encouraging increased use of technical measures that reduce discarding (e.g. increased mesh and use of grids that allow small fish to escape).

In the Donegal-Rockhall area there are very serious concerns about the cod, whiting and hake stocks. Anglerfish are over fished.  There are serious concerns about Rockhall haddock and the unregulated fishery in international waters.  These stocks are the overriding concerns in the advice for the Donegal – Rockhall area.  Scientists have recommended a zero catch for cod, a recovery plan for hake, no fishery for haddock at Rockhall, and reduced fishing of megrim, whiting and plaice.

In the Celtic Sea and West of Ireland Area, there are very serious concerns about hake, cod and plaice.  Sole are over fished but anglerfish and megrim appear to be on the increase.  However, the dilemma for managers is how do you protect the stocks in serious state but allow fishing to continue on stocks in good shape when they are caught together in mixed fisheries.   These stocks are the overriding concerns in the advice for Celtic Sea and west of Ireland area. Fishing pressure has reached very high levels and discarding of juvenile fish continues to be a problem in many fisheries. Scientists are advising a recovery plan for hake, rebuilding of cod and reduced fishing on most of the stocks. 

In general, pelagic stocks (e.g. mackerel, horse mackerel, blue whiting) are in much better shape than the whitefish stocks and scientists are advising similar catches for 2004 as in 2003.  However, fishing mortality in some stocks is high but the stock sizes are healthy.  Herring stocks in the Celtic Sea and off Donegal are giving rise to some concerns.

Scientists have highlighted the poor performance of catch limits (TAC's) as a basis for management.  The EU have advocated the use of fishing effort (days at sea) and the significant reduction in discarding as a possible way forward. Scientists have also highlighted the need for industry initiated programmes, such as closed areas, larger mesh size, special devices that allow some species to escape as a way of avoiding the catching of species in need of protection.