Cod off the ‘endangered’ list

By Nikkie Sutton

- Last updated on GMT

Low levels: stocks of North Sea cod fell to just 44,000 tonnes in 2006
Low levels: stocks of North Sea cod fell to just 44,000 tonnes in 2006

Related tags: Overfishing, Cod, Scotland

British cod is back on the menu and accredited as sustainable, more than a decade after North Sea cod stocks came close to collapse.

Scottish and English cod boats, belonging to the Scottish Fisheries Sustainable Accreditation Group (SFSAG) are now Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certified.

North Sea cod has passed an independent assessment against the MSC’s strict standard thanks to the efforts of a coalition of fishing organisations with support from seafood brands and industry body, Seafish.

This development means that, subject to traceability requirements, North Sea cod can now be sold through MSC Chain of Custody certified supply chains from MSC fish suppliers to certified food-serving venues bearing the MSC ‘blue tick’ label.

This announcement marks a great achievement for the fishing industry as cod stocks in the North Sea peaked at 270,000 tonnes in the 1970s, when North Sea cod was widely sold.

In 2006, stocks fell to just 44,000 tonnes but since then, the industry has worked with the Scottish Government and EU Fisheries Council to agree and implement a ‘cod recovery plan’ in a bid to nurse the stock back to health.

The plan linked the number of days fishing that boats were given to the conservation measures they signed up to.

It aimed to reduce cod catches by 25% in 2009, followed by subsequent and annual reductions of 10%.

UK caught cod

The Scottish industry closed large spawning areas to fishing and introduced a system of real-time closures to protect aggregations while trialling new nets and developing a system to remove electronic monitoring using CCTV cameras on board boats.

Direct Seafood director of sustainability Laky Zervudachi gave a trade perspective on this new achievement.

He said: “As trade sector seafood suppliers we are fully committed to supporting the MSC.

“It is, therefore, fantastic news to be able to sell UK-caught cod to our demanding customers and dispel any confusion around whether food venues should be serving one of our most iconic species.

“It is also a great tribute to everyone in the industry, from fishermen themselves through to the NGO’s that prove that a fishery that was under such significant pressure previously, can be nursed back to health with commitment, passion and great scientific advice.”

MSC UK commercial manager George Clark predicted the reaction from the accreditation would be positive.

He said: “Being able to enjoy once again this highly popular and now certified sustainable species will be met with the positive reaction it deserves, for all the efforts the fishery has put into helping this famous local fish bounce back.”

SFSAG chairman Mike Park called the development ‘massive’ and said it was a testament to the power of collective action.

Stable and sustainable stocks

He added: “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 certified venues can now offer their customers locally-caught cod with a clear conscience.”

William Crooks from Dennis Crooks Fish Merchants hailed the accreditation as a “phenomenal accomplishment” especially when cod had been fished to within “an inch of its life” a decade ago.

He added: “Hopefully, this will spark fresh interest from MSC certified fish and chip shops who have been using frozen Icelandic and Norwegian cod – the only species available to them with the certified sustainable MSC status.

“We need to get the message out there to the general public that fresh British cod is now available as MSC certified sustainable.”

This update was a fantastic achievement, according to National Federation of Fish Fryers director Craig Maw, the owner of Kingfisher Fish & Chips in Plymouth, Devon.

He said: “The turnaround is nothing short of miraculous! It is a testament to the joint efforts of UK fishermen, industry bodies and many others involved who have worked very hard to ensure these stocks return back to sustainable levels.

“Who would have thought that MSC certified sustainable North Sea cod would be on our menus at this time.

“Now diners can eat with confidence enjoying sustainable cod from local UK waters and where the MSC’s blue tick logo is displayed.”

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