Stock collapse or stock recovery? Contrasting perceptions of a depleted cod stock
ICES assessments of cod (Gadus morhua) in the west of Scotland (ICES Division 6a) suggest the biomass has collapsed and that fishing mortality rate (F) has remained high. In contrast, other stocks in the same fishery, and adjacent cod stocks all show marked declines in fishing mortality and some recovery of the biomass. The perception of the status of 6a cod appears to be dependent on the assumption that the fishery exploitation pattern is flat topped. An assessment that allows the exploitation to take a domed shape produces results that suggest a marked decline in fishing mortality rate and that the spawning stock biomass has recovered to the minimum biomass reference point, Blim. The reduction in F is consistent with substantial reductions in fishing effort and shows a similar pattern to stocks taken within the same fishery. The management implications arising from the two assessments differ substantially. The analysis indicates that benchmark assessments need to test assessment model conditioning assumptions more widely and that management advice needs to consider a more comprehensive range of information about the stock and fishery.