The MCS said haddock numbers in the North Sea had improved © 123RF
The MCS said haddock numbers in the North Sea had improved © 123RF

Cod and haddock net better green ratings

10 October 2017

Stocks of cod and haddock from Scottish waters have improved and are heading towards being rated as ‘sustainable’, according to the Marine Conservation Society (MCS). 

Cod has long been on the endangered list as overfishing in the 1990s caused a rapid collapse in the number of cod in the North Sea and across the Atlantic. Haddock was removed from the MCS sustainability list earlier this year after numbers fell below the recommended sustainable level.

However, the MCS’s new edition of the Good Fish Guide has now moved cod from areas including the west of Scotland and the North Sea from number four, denoting it should not be eaten often, to three, which means ‘eat occasionally’.

Haddock in the same area has also improved from a number four rating to a three.

The new ratings come after the Marine Stewardship Council added North Sea cod to its list of sustainable fish earlier this year.

Samuel Stone, head of fisheries and aquaculture at MCS, said if the populations continued to increase, both cod and haddock ratings could be further increased.

“We’re very pleased to see increases in both the populations of North Sea cod and North Sea and West of Scotland haddock,” he said.

“Good management is certainly paying off and if fishing mortality continues to reduce, we would expect to see these fisheries on the green list in the not-too-distant future.”

The guide has also improved ratings for Irish Sea cod, haddock and plaice and hand-lined pollack from the south west. Haddock and hand-lined pollack from the Irish Sea are now both a green-rated ‘best choice’, due to improved spawning stock and declining fishing mortality.

However, the accompanying annual report from the MCS also warned that 41% of fish stocks in the north east Atlantic and waters around the UK were still being overfished.

Owen Stevens, Edinburgh-based marine consultant, said that cod was not yet out of the danger zone.

“It’s encouraging that stocks are beginning to recover but really it’s early days,” he said. 

“Not long ago they were near total collapse on the grand banks and elsewhere.” 

Meanwhile, the guide improved its rating of sprats from the Baltic Sea by giving them a green rating, which means they are at their most sustainable for 20 years.

The MCS said the improved rating had come about because fishing mortality had dropped to levels that are sustainable in the long term. 

Bernadette Clarke, MCS Good Fish Guide manager, said the new rating would hopefully see restaurants and consumers using it more often.

“We should be eating more oily fish like sprat—not only are they good for our health but sprat from the Baltic is now an environmentally friendly choice too,” she said.

“Sprat are a really nutritious, yet affordable, fish choice and although their appeal seems to have waned in recent years, this positive rating should see them getting back on restaurant menus in their own right.” 

Clarke added that nowadays, a lot of ‘whitebait’ being sold in the UK is in fact mature sprat—a more sustainable alternative to traditional whitebait, which is not actually a specific species and is often a mixture of juvenile fish.

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