North Sea cod stocks reached a record low of 44,000 tonnes in 2006 © PA Archive/PA Images
North Sea cod stocks reached a record low of 44,000 tonnes in 2006 © PA Archive/PA Images

North Sea cod now sustainable

19 July 2017

North Sea cod has attained sustainable status a decade after stocks came “close to collapse”, the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) has announced.

North Sea cod passed an 18-month detailed assessment by MSC and, subject to strict traceability requirements, can be sold in supermarkets and restaurants bearing the MSC ‘blue tick’ label.

Marcus Coleman, chief executive of industry group Seafish, said: “The MSC set standards for sustainable fishing and supply chain traceability. Products which pass these standards are awarded the blue MSC label which gives consumers assurance that their favourite fish is sustainably sourced and fully traceable.”

A popular fish in the UK, the country consumes almost 70,000 tonnes annually.

But the UK imports 95% of its cod from fish caught in the arctic waters of the Barents Sea by Iceland, Norwegian and Russian fishing boats, which all boast MSC sustainability certification.

Nigel Edwards, technical and CSR director of Icelandic Seachill, said: “North Sea cod now sits alongside the other sustainable MSC cod fisheries in Iceland and the Barents Sea that means we can be truly confident in the future of cod.”

Levels of North Sea cod have reached their highest in 35 years, according to an International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) study, after numbers plummeted to a record low of 44,000 tonnes in 2006. Numbers peaked at 270,000 tonnes in the 1970s.

Collective action by fishermen, scientists, seafood brands and Seafish to implement a ‘Cod Recovery Programme’ helped nurse the stock back to health by using sustainable fishing practices.

MSC has introduced CCTV cameras on fishing boats to ensure the UK fleet abides by EU rules banning fishermen from dumping dead fish not included in their landing quota.

An MSC survey found 35% of UK adults did not know if cod was sustainable or not. Some 28% said people should not be eating it while exactly the same proportion thought the opposite. 

“Certification marks the end of the cod confusion,” said Toby Middleton, MSC program director for the North East Atlantic. “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.”

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