North Sea cod stocks declared sustainable

North Sea cod stocks have now been declared sustainable a decade after coming close to collapse.
North Sea cod stocks have now been declared sustainable a decade after coming close to collapse.
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North Sea cod can now be bought “with a clear conscience”, according to a fisheries body, as stocks have now been declared sustainable.

The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) said the announcement today (Wednesday) marks a “momentous achievement” for the industry. A decade ago cod stocks came close to collapse but due to the efforts of fishing organisations with support from supermarkets, seafood brands and the industry body, Seafish, North Sea cod has passed an independent assessment against the MSC’s strict standard.

The news means that, subject to strict traceability requirements, North Sea cod can now be sold in supermarkets and restaurants bearing the MSC ‘blue tick’ label, indicating that it is sustainable and fully traceable.

Toby Middleton, MSC programme director, North East Atlantic, said: “Today’s certification marks the end of the cod confusion. If you can see the MSC label on your cod, you know that it has come from a sustainable source. By choosing fish with that label, you will be helping to protect stocks long into the future.”

Although cod is one of the most popular fish in the UK, a YouGov survey carried out for the MSC found that more than one in three UK adults admitted that they do not know if cod is sustainable or not, and whether people should be eating it.

Almost three in ten of those surveyed said they think that cod is not sustainable and that people should actively avoid eating it where possible, but the same number said they believed the opposite.

Cod stocks in the North Sea peaked at 270,000 tonnes in the 1970s, when the fish was widely sold and enjoyed. However, stocks fell to just 44,000 tonnes in 2006. Since then the industry has worked with the Scottish Government and EU Fisheries Council to agree and implement a recovery plan.

This included the allocation of a certain number of days fishing which were linked to agreed conservation measures.

The fishing industry is also able to close fishing areas at short notice to protect local populations and has developed a system of remote monitoring using CCTV cameras on board boats.

Mike Park, Scottish Fisheries Sustainable Accreditation Group (SFSAG) chairman, said: “This is a massive development for the catching sector and is a testament to the power of collective action.

“The years of commitment to rebuilding North Sea cod has shown that fishermen are responsible and can be trusted to deliver stable and sustainable stocks. The consumer can now eat home-caught cod with a clear conscience.”

Bertie Armstrong, Scottish Fishermen’s Federation chief executive, said the awarding of MSC status is a “hugely welcome boost” to the industry.

He continued: “The determination of fishermen to restore the cod stock has meant they have sacrificed a huge amount to achieve this.

“They have willingly participated in a comprehensive programme that has included seasonal closures, real-time avoidance and technical measures to eliminate the catching of juvenile cod.

“And most of these innovatory measures have been created by working fishermen in conjunction with Scottish Government officials from Marine Scotland.”

Scotland’s largest fishing organisation has also welcomed the decision.

The Scottish White Fish Producers’ Association (SWFPA), which represents around 200 fishing boats and 1,400 fishermen, has been at the forefront of industry efforts to restore the cod stock to a sustainable level.

Mike Park, chief executive, said: “Our members have been through a decade of pain to get us to this point so it’s hugely satisfying for them to win recognition from the MSC, the custodian of sustainable fisheries.

“Scotland has introduced more than 50,000 square miles of closures each year to protect spawning females and aggregations of cod.

“With MSC accreditation, we are now looking towards the large retailers to show a commitment to sourcing fresh North Sea cod from Scottish markets.”

Fergus Ewing, Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy, added: “I’m delighted that the sacrifices and efforts made by Scottish fishermen in relation to cod stocks have been recognised by the MSC.

“The fishermen have adapted their methods and introduced a range of innovative new techniques to ensure the recovery of the North Sea cod stock and should be applauded for their determined efforts, creativity and not least resilience on what was an unnecessarily hard road given the constraints of EU’s Cod Recovery Plan.”