North Sea cod recovers to sustainable levels, says Marine Stewardship Council

Written by Liam Kirkaldy on 20 July 2017 in News

Over a decade after North Sea stocks came close to collapse, the MSC has given consumers the go-ahead to buy cod with “a clear conscience”

Fishing boat - image credit: PA

Stocks of North Sea cod have recovered to sustainable levels, according to the Marine Stewardship Council.

Over a decade after North Sea stocks came close to collapse, the MSC has given consumers the go-ahead to buy cod with “a clear conscience”, after the species passed an independent assessment and received the sustainability group’s ‘blue tick’.

British consumers buy around 70,000 tonnes of cod each year, but according to a recent YouGov survey, commissioned by MSC, 35 per cent of people admitted that they did not know if cod is sustainable or not.


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The survey found 28 per cent believed cod is not sustainable, and that people should actively avoid eating it, while another 28 per cent said they believed there are plentiful supplies of cod and it is a sustainable choice of fish.

With cod numbers reduced to just 36,000 a decade ago, the fishing industry was forced to adopt measures to help regenerate the population.

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.”

He added: “This is a huge accomplishment and the perfect example of what the MSC aims to achieve. Thanks to a collaborative, cross-industry effort, one of our most iconic fish has been brought back from the brink.

“Modified fishing gear, catch controls, well-managed fishing practices – all these steps have come together to revive a species that was in severe decline. And now shoppers and diners can play their part. By only choosing MSC certified sustainable North Sea cod, we can all help to protect this much-loved fish and ensure it’s never at risk again.”

Mike Park, chairman of the Scottish Fisheries Sustainable Accreditation Group, said the news was “a testament to the power of collective action”.

But environmental groups were more cautious, with WWF warning that the recovery “remains fragile”.

Lyndsey Dodds, head of UK marine policy at WWF, said: "The recovery of cod in the North Sea reflects what's possible if fishermen work together with fisheries managers, scientists and the wider industry to recover fish stocks.

"However, the amount of North Sea cod at breeding age is well below late 1960s levels and recovery remains fragile.

"If we're to get North Sea cod back on British plates for good, it's vital that we don't lose focus on sustainably managing fish stocks and ensuring the protection of the marine wildlife and habitats as the UK develops its post-Brexit fisheries policy.

"Embracing new technology and installing cameras on the UK fleet would be a highly cost-effective and efficient way to help manage and monitor cod catches, as well as the range of other fish also caught by these boats."

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