UK fish stock audit reveals ‘brink of collapse’

More than one-third of major British fish stocks are overfished, and one quarter are now in a critical state.

A new report from Oceana details the situation, taking into account a total of 104 individual ‘stocks’. Blame is placed on UK Government catch limits, which have been criticised for exceeding scientific recommendations for fisheries. 

As a result, populations have been driven into decline, with many now considered to be on the brink of collapse. Among them, North Sea cod, often considered an archetypal example of the region’s abundant fish stocks, was specifically identified as a cause for concern. Meanwhile, mackerel is now classed as ‘overfished’.

Overall, less than half of fish populations in UK coastal waters are thought to be a of a healthy size, although the condition of many could not be determined due to a lack of data. This in itself creates a risk of overfishing, and the likelihood that many species could be missing from the critical list. 

There is a now a real danger that certain stocks could collapse altogether, with serious ramifications for food security, coastal community economies, and vital industries. Recommendations include the introduction of zero catch policies for a number of species viewed as being in ‘crisis’. 

These include Celtic Sea cod, West of Scotland cod, and Irish Sea whiting, which are often bycatch when fishers are targeting commercially lucrative species. Comparing these to the top five stocks for sustainable fishing and healthy-sized populations, a clear differentiator is adherence to catch sizes advised by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES). This is often stricter than the UK’s domestic fisheries policies. 

‘Oceana’s Taking Stock report clearly demonstrates the dire state of UK fish stocks,’ said Dr Annette Broderick, Professor of Marine Conservation at the University of Exeter. ‘These exploited fish populations play an integral role in marine ecosystems, the health of the ocean and the future of the UK’s fishing industry. Time is running out to conserve vulnerable marine life. The UK government must follow scientific guidance.’

More on seas and oceans: 

Ocean 14 Capital Fund invests in alternative seabed harvesting

New North Sea oil gas licenses threaten marine protection areas

Plymouth seagrass restoration project lays more roots

Image: Suzanne Plunkett / Oceana




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