North Sea cod receives sustainability certification

Sustainability and traceability concerns surrounding North Sea cod have been weathered, as the fish will now be identified with a label demonstrating its origins. 

From now on, Scottish and English cod boats – members of the Scottish Fisheries Sustainable Accreditation Group – will be Marine Stewardship Council (MSC)-certified. The progress means that North Sea cod sold in supermarkets and restaurants will bear the MSC ‘blue tick’ label, reassuring consumers that the fish was caught using sustainable methods and is fully traceable.

“This is a massive development for the catching sector and is a testament to the power of collective action,” said Mike Park, chairman of the Scottish Fisheries Sustainable Accreditation Group. “The years of the commitment to rebuilding North Sea cod has shown that fishermen are responsible and can be trusted to deliver stable and sustainable stocks. The consumer can now eat home-caught cod with a clear conscience.”

The announcement was a result of the efforts made by a coalition of fishing organisations, supported by supermarkets, seafood brands and the industry body, Seafood. According to MSC, cod stocks in the North Sea during the 1970s peaked at 270,000 tonnes (t). However, this dropped to just 44,000t in 2006. The industry has been working in conjunction with the Scottish government and EU Fisheries Council to implement a ‘Cod Recovery Plan’, designed to restore numbers.

To achieve its goal, the plan connected the number of days’ fishing that boats were given to the conservation measures they were signed up to. Cod catches were reduced by a quarter in 2009, followed by annual reductions of 10%. The industry closed off areas where the cod were present and trialled new nets, alongside producing a new system of remote electronic monitoring, using CCTV cameras on boats.

MSC reported that we consume nearly 70,000t of cod every year. The council commissioned a YouGov survey, which revealed that 35% – or one in three – UK adults admitted they did not know if cod was sustainable or not, and whether or not it should be consumed. Meanwhile, almost three in 10, 28%, said they thought that cod was not sustainable and should be actively avoided where possible. However, the same number believed that the opposite was true, and that there were plenty of numbers available, resulting in a sustainable fish.

“This is a huge accomplishment and the perfect example of what the MSC aims to achieve,” commented Toby Middleton, MSC programme director, North East Atlantic. “Thanks to a collaborative, cross-industry effort, one of our most iconic fish has been brought back from the brink. Modified fishing gear, catch controls, well-managed fishing practices – all these steps have come together to revive a species that was in severe decline. And now shoppers and diners can play their part. By only choosing MSC-certified sustainable North Sea cod, we can all help to protect this much-loved fish and ensure it’s never at risk again.”

The development has been welcomed by bodies across the industry. Marcus Coleman, chief executive of Seafish, explained that not only was this good news for the sector, but also for consumers. “It is our mission to support a profitable, sustainable and socially responsible seafood industry, and this is a shining example of how industry and science can work together for a profoundly positive outcome,” he said.

“The MSC sets 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. This certification not only enhances the reputation of North Sea cod, but helps widen the number of sustainable choices available to the British consumer, enabling them to eat more fish more often.”

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