Trip to Scotland to inspect the Cod crises (?)

Recently ICES advised (October 2002) that fishing of cod and associated species should be minimised or stopped in order to save the stocks from collapse.
The fishing grounds were critically depleted. This was a classic symptom of a stock close to collapse and happened with the Canadian cod and the North Sea herring before their demise ICES spokesman said.
Also, as Robin Cook, Director of Fisheries Research Services, Aberdeen said in Fishing News 6 December 2002:
"For Scotland, and some English boats there is an added problem. Since 1999 there have been no good year classes of haddock in the North Sea.
That means the stock will decline rapidly after 2003 and unless a good year class appears soon, haddock could also collapse. The signs are that 2004 could be a crunch year for roundfish boats. We need to plan to face that problem now, it is not just cod that are in jeopardy."

In order to see this situation with my own eyes I took a trip to Scotland. I went to Aberdeen and Peterhead, went to fish markets and talked to fishermen. When I saw a box of roe at the side of fish boxes containing 30 cm long (small) haddocks. I was shocked. All the haddock were mature and this was the very big 99- year class, now 4+ years old. This was a situation I was very familiar with from numerous overcrowded Artic charr lakes.
Below is an interview that I gave to the Fishing News, and some pictures I took in Peterhead.
Article from Fishing News 26.1. 2003, :
Lack of food is causing stocks problem
Icelandic scientist says EU measures will make problem worse.
Independent Icelandic fisheries biologist Jon Kristjansson confirmed his thoughts of poor growth rates in North Sea haddock at Peterhead market this week.
AN ICELANDIC fisheries biologist says the problem of stock recruitment in the North Sea is being caused by lack of food and not overfishing, reports David Linkie.
He claims that the latest EU measures are the opposite of what is needed and he is urging Scottish fishermen to challenge them.
Jon Kristjansson, an independent scientist who has been a fisheries management consultant to the Faeroese fisheries minister, believes the measures will decimate whitefish stocks rather than aid their recovery. Mr Kristjansson was in Peterhead this week discussing the present crisis with local skippers and looking at fish landings at Peterhead market. He told FN that the Faeroese Government has totally ignored the advice of ICES scientists for a 50% reduction in fishing effort and has retained the status quo allocation of days at sea.
This has seen haddock and cod catches from the same fishing effort rise by 53% and 38% respectively in the last 12 months, giving a clear correlation between increased catches and larger stock biomass levels. Mr Kristjansson, who has 30 years experience of fisheries management, said that what he had seen pointed to the need to increase the 2003 North Sea quotas for haddock and whiting, rather than decrease them. This is because a good growth rate for fish is more important for good recruitment than stock levels, and fishing the stocks harder means faster growth.
Jon Kristjansson travelled to Peterhead for first hand information after contacting the website of Peter Bruce‘s pair seiner Budding Rose. Whitefish skippers from Lossiemouth to Peterhead were extremely interested in and supportive of Jon Kristjansson‘s views, which confirm their thinking that political manoeuvring and not stock conservation measures are the reasons why they are being squeezed out.
Jon Kristjansson said he had never seen such small mature haddocks as those on Peterhead market. Such poor rates of growth indicated that the huge swim of haddock currently found in abundance everywhere needed more food than was available because of the large density of fish living off it. His observations of the poor growth rate of haddock, empty stomachs and general poor condition of a large proportion of the catch was confirmed during discussions with a number of skippers at Peterhead. Fish were using up more energy in locating feed than they were getting from finding it. This limited their size and resulted in unusually small fish reaching maturity and spawning. And as a result of their poor condition, these stocks suffered high mortality rates after spawning. Trying to protect a starving fish stock by reducing quotas and increasing mesh sizes to release immature fish made no sense, when large numbers of these fish would not survive. The only way to resolve this downward spiral is to create faster growth rates by establishing higher levels of feed, such as would be achieved by fishermen being allowed to catch greater quantities of haddock, said Mr Kristjansson.
It would also promote better recruitment to cod stocks, which would also have more feed.
Jon Kristjansson was critical of the continued EU reliance on a quota system. It led to selective fishing of only the better grounds to achieve the maximum prices to pay for quotas, leaving stocks of small and poorer condition fish. This made fishermen the only predatory hunter that takes the best and leaves the weakest.
Quotas also led to high discards and distorted landings sampling data used by scientists when assessing stock levels.
Jon Kristjansson warned that the EU was ”going down a dangerous route• by increasing mesh sizes because this meant the existing food supply had to support an extra year class of fish. Increased stocks, particularly of small, immature fish, resulted in depleted food supplies, minimum growth rates and no room for stock recruitment, said Mr Kristjansson.
Lower stock levels led to faster growth rates, better recruitment and healthier stocks.
Jon Kristjansson said recent experiences in Faroe — ranked top of the North Atlantic sustainability fisheries — was evidence that stocks adapt to fishing measures.
The Faeroese Government operated a quota system for two years after it was imposed by Denmark in 1994. Since then it has managed whitefish stocks by a combination of fishing days, closed areas, fishing gear and vessel regulation. There are no discards or illegal landings.
Catch levels are now near historical highs, with the fleet unable to hold down fish stocks. The remarkable turnaround is illustrated by a haddock catch of 4300 tonnes in 1995 reaching 21,700 tonnes last year, while saithe now stands at 48,200 tonnes compared to 24,000 tonnes in 1995. Jon Kristjansson can be contacted at or
The white fish trawlers are in fact small boats. Six years ago they were 600, now there are 162, and the EU demands a further cut of 80 boats!
Small haddocks are not baby fish but mature adults. Ruler is 30 cm long.
Mature male 4+
Mature female haddock 4+
Small slender cod
Mesh size has been increased from 100 - 120 mm last two years, letting the small mature fish easily through. ICES maintains that fishing pressure is still increasing and the fishing must stop.
Scale from a 32 cm haddock caught in January 2003. The fish is 4 vinters old, year- class 1999.
Faeroese catch details in tonnes 2000-2002

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