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Setting the Record Straight on Mature North Sea Cod

Cod Sustainability Politics +4 more

UK - An article in last weekend's Sunday Times (16 September 2012) claimed that "fewer than 100 mature cod are left in the North Sea". The Centre for Environment, Fisheries & Aquaculture Science (CEFAS) has stated that such a statement is wrong even though the cod stock does remain severely depleted.

Lucy Towers thumbnail

The briefing Cefas gave the Sunday Times journalist about the recovering North Sea cod stock and the positive news about haddock, saithe and plaice at high stock sizes and reasonable levels of exploitation (fishing) were omitted in the final article.

Cefas and other European scientific institutions work together at the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) to monitor and assess the biomass (tonnage) of North Sea cod and other commercial species.

For North Sea cod, it is correct that the international fishing rate (mortality) has been high since the 1980s, and has shown a decline since 2000. The number of young cod (recruitment) has been low since 1987, and even lower since 1998, causing serious concern.

The latest ICES' assessment shows that there has been a gradual improvement in the status of the stock over the last few years. The amount of mature fish (spawning stock biomass) has increased from the historical low in 2006 and shows signs of further improvement.

This has been achieved through the collaboration of fishermen and scientists working together to gain better and more robust scientific evidence upon which to make fisheries management decisions.

The Fisheries Science Partnership and discard-reduction programmes like Project 50 per cent, alongside catch-quota trials run in collaboration with the Marine Management Organisation, have done much to help inform the scientific evidence base and to deliver more sustainable fisheries.

Fisheries Secretary Richard Lochhead said: "Misleading statements on the state of our fisheries and cod stocks in particular has been unhelpful and a distraction from the laudable efforts of Scottish fishermen to support cod recovery.

"The facts show that since 2006 the cod stock has been gradually improving. Scotland has played a big part in this, by achieving the EUs biggest reductions in the cod discards, while we have led the way with sustainable fishing initiatives.

"Our catch quota trials uses CCTV monitoring has been able to eliminate cod discards for the fishermen involved, while under the Scottish Conservation Credits Scheme vessels use more selective fishing gear to avoid catching undersized and unwanted fish in the first place.

"We are fully committed to ensuring a successful, long term future for Scottish fisheries and that means following the scientific advice and continuing our measures to fish more sustainably.

"Wilfully misleading and sensational claims that selectively interpret the facts do no nothing to promote this agenda. Scottish consumers can be assured that both government and industry are fully committed securing a viable and successful future for Scottish fishing communities and the fish stocks on which they depend."

Confusion was inevitable when the Sunday Times attempted to condense complex fish stock information on the back of their request for a briefing about the New Economics Foundation's latest report (see