Closed petition Negotiate sustainable catch limits for all 5 UK cod stocks with the EU in 2022.

There are five cod stocks around the UK, all of which are overfished. Four are so badly overfished that populations are at risk of collapse. Every year, catch limits are determined in negotiations between the UK, EU and Norway and every year the UK ignores the science and allows overfishing.

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We need thriving cod populations around the UK for the health of our seas, our people and our businesses that depend on cod. However, the situation is dire. The West Scotland cod population alone has declined by 92% since 1981. Despite continued warnings about the perilous condition of the stock, the UK set catch limits far above sustainable levels. The UK must set catch limits at sustainable levels to allow cod populations to replenish themselves and flourish in our seas, for us all.

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Government responded

This response was given on 28 December 2022

The United Kingdom advocates an approach towards setting Total Allowable Catches for cod and other stocks which are founded on the best available scientific advice.

Annual scientific advice on the fishing opportunities for fish stocks, including cod, is provided by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea and is used to negotiate a total allowable catch (TAC) for most commercially important fish stocks in UK waters. Our objective in fisheries negotiations with other coastal States which fish in the North East Atlantic including the EU and Norway is to set TACs in line with this advice to make sure that stocks are exploited within sustainable limits. In a few instances we must balance the need to allow fishing in a mixed fishery to continue in order to support our fishing communities, while enabling the recovery of more vulnerable stocks which can be taken as a bycatch. In practice, this means that TAC reductions made to protect a vulnerable stock may require reductions in another healthy stock that is caught at the same time.

For example, for 2022 because of our concerns about the vulnerable condition of North Sea cod, we negotiated the total allowable catch for both North Sea haddock and North Sea whiting at levels significantly below the total catch recommended by the scientific advice (-59% and -63% respectively). This had the effect of lowering fishing effort on targeted fisheries which have a high bycatch of cod. The advice for North Sea cod in 2023 recommended a +63% increase in the total allowable catch and also forecasts a +25% increase by 2024 in the Spawning Stock Biomass for the biological stock, which is an indicator of a stock’s reproductive capacity. This suggests our approach might have contributed to the expansion of the cod biomass in the North Sea and allowed the EU, Norway and the UK to agree to increased fishing opportunities for next year. That said, this management approach can also sometimes mean we want to set a TAC for a more vulnerable stock above the headline scientific advice to avoid the TAC for that stock “choking” or preventing the catch of other stocks that are healthy and commercially important.

The UK-EU fisheries negotiations for 2023 concluded on 20 December 2022. An initial estimate of TACs agreed bilaterally between the UK and EU suggests the number of TACs that align with scientific advice from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) has increased by 13% compared to last year. This is the largest increase since 2020 when the UK first started using this metric. The Government will publish shortly a full assessment of the number of TACs set consistent with ICES advice across all annual fisheries negotiations.

In addition to TAC setting, we are committed to a National Cod Avoidance Plan(a) which covers a variety of measures in different areas of UK waters of the North Sea. The measures include restrictions on mesh size on nets, alongside real time closures and real time reporting to protect high abundances of cod of all ages. These are in addition to existing seasonal closures in UK waters for the protection of spawning aggregations of cod.

The UK also implements technical measures to protect cod in other sea areas including use of highly selective fishing gears to enable unwanted bycatch from directed fisheries to escape. For example, highly selective gears which cut the bycatch of cod from the directed Nephrops fishery in the Irish Sea have been used for several years. In the Celtic Sea, the UK introduced more selective fishing gears in UK waters in 2021 and is currently working with the EU, through the Specialised Committee of Fisheries, to identify new co-ordinated measures to reduce cod catches in EU and UK waters.


Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs