Belgian fishermen must significantly reduce fishing for sole next year

The EU has decided that Belgian fishermen will have to reduce their catch when fishing for sole in the North Sea next year. Flanders' minister of Fisheries, Hilde Crevits (CD&V), said she was "particularly concerned" about the reduction, as sole is an essential source of income.

Belgian fishermen will be allowed to fish 60 per cent less sole in the North Sea next year than last year. The reduction rate in the Irish Sea for sole fishing is 77 per cent, and in the Bristol Channel 6 per cent. In the Western English Channel, the quota decreases by 14 per cent, in the eastern part of the Channel by 17.4 per cent and in the area south of Ireland by 22.2 per cent. Half of Belgian fish comes from British waters, and Brexit has made access to fishing rights in those areas more difficult.

In return, trawlers may catch more plaice, rays and cod. The quota for rays has increased by 81 per cent in the North Sea and more than 76 per cent in the Channel.

Crevits, who represented Belgium at the deliberations, said: “These were very difficult negotiations this year."

"On most fishing grounds, this is in complete contradiction to what we as fishermen observe at sea"

Quotas are determined based on scientific advice on fish stocks, but it takes two years for that data to be put into practice. Crevits is working with other member states to see how this can be done differently. She has also asked the Institute for Agricultural, Fisheries and Food Research to collect more data. For fish stocks for which little data is available, the quota is reduced by 20 per cent every two years as a precaution.

"On most fishing grounds, this is in complete contradiction to what we as fishermen observe at sea," said Geert De Groote, chair of shipowners' association Rederscentrale of the reduction in sole quotas. "Even in places where no other data is available, the knowledge of the fisherman is not taken into account, and a precautionary principle is arbitrarily applied."

This makes it difficult for fishermen to make long-term plans and "create a return on our heavy investments," he said.

He said the association appreciated the push to integrate new data more quickly and follow scientific advice more actively. "With positive news about some ray, monkfish, megrim and cod stocks, it gives us some hope that we can get through 2024, with the prospect of a much better 2025," he said.


#FlandersNewsService | Fishermen unload boxes filled with freshly caught fish © PHOTO JOHN THYS / AFP

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