The assessment process could lead to North Sea cod becoming MSC certified within the next 18 months, putting it back on the menu for ethically-minded shoppers and diners, who have avoided the fish for more than a decade because of overfishing concerns.
The cod stocks in the North Sea peaked at 270,000 tonnes in the 1970s, when Scottish and English cod was widely sold and enjoyed. The stocks had fallen to just 44,000 tonnes in 2006, however a concerted effort, principally by Scottish and English fishermen, has seen stocks rise to a level of 149,000 tonnes last year.
This was achieved through collectively adopting sustainable fishing practices such as modification of their fishing gear, 'real time' closures, and sea area closures to protect spawning females.
If an independent assessment against the MSC’s science-based standard confirms that North Sea cod is now sustainable and well-managed, the popular fish would be eligible to carry the MSC’s 'blue tick' ecolabel for the first time, giving shoppers and diners an independent assurance that it has been sourced sustainably and is traceable from ocean to plate.
Mike Park, chairman of the Scottish Fisheries Sustainable Accreditation Group, a coalition of producer organisations and one trade body, which has already achieved MSC certification for North Sea haddock and northern saithe, said: “The MSC standard is the most credible and robust benchmark there is for seafood sustainability, and the logical next step in demonstrating that North Sea cod is now sustainable. Getting to this point has required a huge commitment and personal sacrifice from Scottish fishermen, who have worked hard to recover North Sea cod."
Toby Middleton, Programme Director for MSC in the UK & North Atlantic, added: "Whether battered and wrapped up with a portion of chips, or served in a fine dining restaurant, cod is one of Britain's best-loved and most iconic fish, so this is very welcome news. The fishing industry has worked hard to improve stocks and if the assessment against the MSC standard is successful, shoppers and diners will soon be able to choose British-caught, North Sea cod with confidence, knowing it’s been certified as sustainable."
This graph shows how North Sea cod stock levels (Bpa) have changed over time. MSC certification aims for fish stocks at sustainable levels, with fishing effort that aims to reach or maintain the sustainable stock level (MSYB trigger). The third line (Blim) represents a dangerously low stock level. Source: International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES).