UK fisheries in distress

Condensed from an article by Lindsey Partos, SeafoodSource contributing editor. 23 July, 2010.

A vast majority of scientifically assessed stocks in the United Kingdom are fished at rates well above levels for high long-term yield, according to a new government report.

Five years on from the UK’s Charting Progress report, the updated snapshot of the country’s seas was released this week, citing productivity and biodiversity as the main pressures of fishing.

The report’s findings suggested that "we’ll have to make tough decisions to meet our needs for energy, raw materials and food," said UK Environment Minister Richard Benyon.

Despite pressure on fish stocks, the report shows signs of slight improvement on sustainable fishing — out of 20 finfish stocks in UK waters, the proportion of stocks at full reproductive capacity and being harvested sustainably has increased from around 10 percent in the early 1990s to 25 percent in 2007.

But the proportion of stocks with full reproductive capacity has changed little since 1990.

The North-East Atlantic mackerel stock is currently the most valuable finfish fishery in UK waters, operating mainly from Scotland.

The demersal fisheries in the North Sea, west of Scotland and in the Irish Sea have shifted away from offshore fishing for finfish species and toward inshore waters for the Norway lobster (Nephrops norvegicus) and other shellfish and mixed demersal species.

Seven of the top 10 most profitable fleet segments operate in the North Sea and off Scotland’s west coast. The total profit earned by the UK fleet was around GBP 95 million in 2006 (before interest payments and depreciation).

Profitability, added the report, has varied widely in the UK fishing industry during the 2000s because of a reduction in catch per unit effort, escalating fuel prices, an increase in quota trading and increases in ex-vessel prices following the introduction of buyers-and-sellers regulations in 2006.

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