Bad news for North Sea cod hunters

Keen beach anglers anticipating a decent run of winter and spring North Sea cod off local shores maybe nursing shattered hopes if official statistics are any guide.

The top survival rate of cod larvae this century was in 2005, but the fish of that year class were virtually wiped out within three years, according to European fishery scientists and our own Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aqua Culture Sciences based in Lowestoft.

Some 62pc of these yearlings were trawled and dumped in the North Sea during 2006 and 58pc of the remainder went overboard in 2007 and therefore were of no benefit to long-term spawning efforts to boost cod beyond the endangered species category.

Before that waste the previous successful spawning was in 1996, but within five years those fish has been extinguished, mostly discarded at sea as undersized or of borderline market value. This wasteful practice of fish dumping rests in the domain of the European Fishery Policy that fixes catch quotas on an annual basis.

The Total Allowable Catch (TAC) regulation is clearly responsible for the critical dumping at sea of around one tonne of cod, either too small for market or exceeding quota.

In 2002 enforcement was beefed up, cutting quotas by 20pc, and in the United Kingdom forcing 40pc of the trawler fleet to be decommissioned.

The then UK Fisheries minister Ben Bradshaw declared the reform would conserve fish stocks. He was wrong.

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In 2008, as a result of an increase in cod numbers from the spawning success of 2005, quotas were upped by an unsustainable 11pc, and it was back to square one.

For beach anglers this industrial profligacy has been a disaster. And with essential lugworm bait costing �20 per hundred and travelling expenses ever rising it's hardly surprising that beach rods in their holdalls are gathering cobwebs in the garage.

The abundant species available so far this winter have been small whiting and dabs that are not recognised as ideal freezer fare.

Sheringham's well-known North Norfolk League organiser Tony Thomas said competition anglers had caught loads of flat fish this winter, but individual pleasure anglers wanted cod.

'The European Fishery Authorities must get to grips with this serious conservation problem quickly. It is wicked to dump tonnes of cod overboard and we need more no go areas to keep trawlers out of the spawning grounds as well as a responsible revision of catch quotas downwards,' he said.

However, there is another worrying development that the Authorities can not easily remedy – rising sea temperatures due to climate change.

Fish scientists indicate the North Sea is steadily warming and cold water demersal species like cod are showing signs of migration to cooler climes in the North Atlantic and Barents Sea.

Good for Iceland and Russian trawler men, but bad news for North Sea anglers whose visions of returning home with plump three pound cod are unlikely to materialise.

It is not all doom and gloom, for warmer waters along the East coast have encouraged sea bass to multiply to become a major rod and line quarry from the Runtons in North Norfolk down to the Thames Estuary.

Unfortunately, the bass are being targeted by a growing number of commercial enterprises already taking a serious toll of this tasty, marketable culinary fish.

• Plans to install CCTV cameras along banks and access points to coarse fisheries in Ireland have been hailed as the most encouraging measure yet to deter fish theft on the Emerald Isle.

A pilot scheme conducted by Fisheries Ireland Inland has generated much interest among fishery bosses and the Environment Agency in this country.

Cameras placed strategically around commercial fisheries and access points and car parks to our rivers and Broads would almost certainly act as an effective deterrent against what has become serious fish poaching for the pot, unlawful restocking and live bait movements.

• On the big fish scene it was not a pike nor a carp that stole the limelight at the weekend, but a magnificent perch scaling an ounce under three pounds. It was caught by Norwich match man Lee Beckett during the Earlham Silver club match on the river Wensum in Norwich.

The pristine stripey was tempted by a single maggot on a tiny size 18 hook and on a short whip fought for 10 minutes before it was safely netted.

Match winner Pete Swan bagged a perch of 1lbs 12oz to boost his catch to 15lbs 2oz and in the present wintry conditions anglers who opt to target perch with a juicy lob worm could prove to be winners.