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Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Cornish Fishermen slam quality control at Plymouth University

In the wake of an apparently damning article (double -page spread no less) that appeared in the Western Morning News (and the Daily telegraph) last week see previous coverage on this blog

Paul Trebilcock, Chief Executive of the Cornish Fish Producers has responded to the Plymouth University Report which claims that overfishing has led to the decline of Fish Stocks in the English Channel - this was the basis for the stories that appeared in the Telegraph and the Western Morning News. 

Paul Trebilcok - Cornish Fish Producers leader
 "Normally, I would have nothing to say about the quality of academic research, which is subject to its own disciplines of internal and external peer review. It is quite right and proper that academic researchers have the freedom to examine and explore any theme which is of interest to them and which they have resources to pursue.
There comes a point however when, as with the recently released report from Plymouth University, where the research in the classroom seems to wholly contradict the experience in the real world that we can only wonder at the quality controls; or that the authors are pursuing a specific political agenda by being selective with the evidence. The emotive and sensationalist language used by the University to publicise its report suggests that it is the latter. In either case this raises questions which the authorities of Plymouth University will want to address.
At the very least it appears to us that environmental advocacy has clouded and corrupted this research to the extent that the result would be laughable if it was not so serious. Of particular concern is the abandonment of the scientific method in favour of an approach which seems to me to be a selection of facts which support a chosen narrative and ignores those which don't.

No reasonable reading of current ICES scientific advice could conclude that hake is in decline or that there is a problem with haddock stocks. On the contrary the management problems we face result from the exceptionally high abundance of these two species.
But hake and haddock are two stocks chosen by the study to make the case for a general decline in demersal fish stocks. The scientific evidence points in a very different direction.

The abundance of Hake 1978 to 2013 (International Council for Exploration of the Seas)
 Similarly with haddock. Haddock populations are prone to extreme fluctuations due to environmental factors. It just so happens that we are currently facing a large increase in abundance arising from a spike in recruitment. Fishermen are just incredulous when it is suggested they are in decline. Their main challenge is in how to avoid haddock, within the context of the forthcoming discard ban.
And to suggest that Norway and Iceland have banned bottom trawling, as the University claims in its press comments is just factually incorrect. And whilst it is true that some species of skate are currently depleted, there are many other species skates and rays whose conservation status is sound.
The underlying difficulty seems to lie with a conflation and confusion of science and environmental advocacy. This should not be allowed to cloud the progress that the fishing industry has made in recent years in putting fishing on a sustainable footing.
This is the real point, which the study chooses to ignore. A turning point in European fisheries came in the year 2000 which has completely transformed the picture.

Trends in Fishing Mortality (Fishing Pressure) ICES

Trends in Fishing Mortality (Fishing Pressure) ICES 
The dramatic fall in fishing mortality from the year 2000 portrayed in this graph produced by the International Council for Exploration of the Seas, is by far the most significant development in our fisheries in the last 100 years and will be the most important factor shaping the industry’s future.
This pattern:
  • covers all of the main species groupings
  • refers to the whole of the North East Atlantic
  • shows that after something like 70 years of incremental increases in fishing mortality, fishing pressure has been drastically reduced
There are multiple causes for this radical change. For the demersal fisheries, the painful measures taken to rebuild the cod stocks will have played a central part; but landing controls, better selectivity, industry mind-set, collaboration between scientists and fishermen, long term management plans and capacity reduction, along with twenty or thirty other factors, have all contributed. Probably the most significant has been the reduction in the size of the fleets.
The Plymouth study says nothing about this as it relentlessly pursues its catastrophe narrative. Unless it is corrected it will unfairly harm the reputation of the South West’s responsible fishing industry. More to the point it risks damage to the reputation of Plymouth University."