Aquaculture for all

North Sea cod stocks back to sustainable levels

Fish stocks Cod +3 more

The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) has awarded North Sea cod its gold standard for sustainability today, in a move that’s been broadly welcomed by fishermen, politicians and conservation organisations alike.

Cod stocks in the North Sea peaked at 270,000 tonnes in the 1970s, but had fallen 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 ‘Cod Recovery Plan’ that would nurse the stock back to health.

The Scottish White Fish Producers’ Association (SWFPA), Scotland’s largest fishing association, has been at the forefront of industry efforts to restore the cod stock to a sustainable level and its chief executive, Mike Park, has expressed his delight at the certification.

“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,” he said.

“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.”

SWFPA Chairman Davy Milne added: "This has been a long time coming, and is in spite of European regulations not because of them.

“Scottish fishermen have undergone an immense set of hardships to return cod back to sustainable levels. Our commitment to sustainable harvesting is now a beacon for others to follow."

Scotland’s Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy, Fergus Ewing, also welcomed the MSC’s decision, saying: “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.”

Crisis averted?

It was not long ago that North Sea cod stocks were thought to be in crisis and today’s award is seen as an excellent example of how such crises can be averted.

Chairman of the Shetland Fishermen’s Association, Leslie Tait, said: “It’s a positive sign for the industry that it can come together the way it has to restore a stock that was being written off a few years ago.”

However, some conservation organisations point out that, while recovering, cod stocks are still far below their levels 50 years ago.

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."