Cod is off the red list and back on the menu

Published on
September 28, 2015

North Sea cod has been removed from the Marine Conservation Society’s (MCS’) Fish to Avoid list with the charity acknowledging that stocks have increased from dangerously low levels.

As part of MCS’ autumn update to is FishOnline guide, North Sea cod is now rated 4 and amber, which indicates that it is showing signs of improvement.

“It’s fantastic to see this fishery finally off the red list. Years of sacrifice and a lot of hard work have led to population increases above dangerously low levels. Whilst this certainly is a milestone for North Sea cod, the job is not done yet. Efforts of recent years need to continue in order for the fishery to head towards the green end of the spectrum,” said Samuel Stone, MCS fisheries officer.

The population needs to increase above precautionary levels, and the fishing mortality should be further reduced to the maximum sustainable yield (MSY), said Stone

“In fact, all cod stocks in U.K. waters are still being fished in excess of this level, which is required by law by 2020 at the latest.”

The MCS also cautions that the fishing industry, consumers, and the fish buying industry need to be aware that cod may never fully recover to its previous glory days of the 1970s and early 80s.

It said a combination of sustained overfishing which reduced the stock and effectively the age and length at maturity of cod, plus changes to environmental conditions  namely the warming of the northwest European shelf seas  have reduced the reproductive success of North Sea cod. As waters continue to warm, the slower and lower the recovery may be.

MCS’ revision of the sustainability status of North Sea cod follows the announcement earlier this month that a new partnership between fishermen's organizations, processors and retailers would be spearheading the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) assessment of the recovering stock.

Retail supplier Iceland Seachill announced at the World Seafood Congress (WSC) 2015 in Grimsby, U.K., that it was leading an application to the Seafish Strategic Investment Fund (SIF) fund to support the assessment, and confirmed that the first stage of the process had been passed successfully.

The other members providing financial contributions and support to the project comprise the Scottish Fisheries Sustainable Accreditation Group (SFSAG), Marks and Spencer, W.M. Morrison and Sainsbury’s, while the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations (NFFO) and Young’s Seafood are supporting the assessment in kind.

The assessment is expected to be commissioned early next year.

While it’s more good news for North Sea cod, there are still nine other cod stocks in the Northeast Atlantic that are red-rated by MCS: Celtic Sea, Faroes Plateau, Faroes Bank, Irish Sea, Kattegat, Norwegian Coast, Rockall, West of Scotland and West Baltic.

“These nine cod stocks now need some of the attention that North Sea cod has had over the last decade in order to turn things around,” said Stone. “While these stocks are far smaller than the North Sea stock, they still play a very important role in the local marine ecosystem and greater efforts are needed to recover these stocks.

“The U.K. has played a major role in the overexploitation of many of these stocks,” he said. “It must now do more to improve their status. To achieve this, significant changes are needed in management including investment in research and monitoring. And many fisheries still need to better avoid incidental catches of juvenile cod when fishing for other finfish, flat fish and nephrops, also known as langoustine or scampi.”

Other key ratings changes in the latest version of FishOnline include:

  • All wild-caught seabass is now on the Fish to Avoid list, reflecting the urgent need to prevent a collapse of this fishery
  • Whiting from the Irish Sea slips onto the Fish to Avoid list. The population is severely depleted with high numbers of young fish continually being caught as bycatch in nephrops fisheries
  • Wild salmon stays on the Fish to Avoid list and its situation is getting worse with the lowest number of rivers achieving conservation targets since assessments began
  • Hake from the southwest has moved onto the Fish to Eat list, reflecting the recent MSC certification of the Cornish fishery 
Contributing Editor reporting from London, UK

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