After more than 10 years since North Sea cod stocks came close to collapse, fish merchants, suppliers, restaurants, and their customers can finally buy the popular species with a clear conscience and a recognised certification.
Due to cross sector collaboration between fishing organisations with support from fishermen, seafood brands and the industry body, Seafish UK, North Sea cod has passed an independent assessment against the Marine Stewardship Council's (MSC) strict standard.
Now subject to strict traceability requirements, North Sea cod can now be sold through MSC Chain of Custody certified supply chains from MSC fish suppliers to certified restaurants and fish and chip shops bearing the MSC ‘blue tick' label.
In the 1970s cod stocks in the North Sea peaked at 270,000 tonnes, however, stocks fell 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 plan linked the number of days fishing that boats were given to the conservation measures they signed up to. The plan aimed to reduce cod catches by 25% in 2009, followed by subsequent annual reductions of 10%. In response, the Scottish industry closed large spawning areas to fishing and introduced a system of real time closures to protect aggregations while trialling new nets and developing a system of remote electronic monitoring using CCTV cameras on board boats.
Mike Park, chairman of the Scottish Fisheries Sustainable Accreditation Group (SFSAG), commented: "This is a massive development for the catching sector and is a testament to the power of collective action. The years of commitment to rebuilding North Sea cod has shown that fishermen are responsible and can be trusted to deliver stable and sustainable stocks. The certified restaurant or chip shop can now offer their customers locally-caught cod with a clear conscience."
Craig Maw, National Federation of Fish Fryers (NFFF) director and owner of the 2017 fish and chip shop of the year Kingfisher Fish & Chips, added: "What a fantastic achievement for North Sea cod stocks being awarded MSC certification. The turnaround is nothing short of miraculous! It is a testament to the joint efforts of UK fishermen, industry bodies and many others involved who have worked very hard to ensure these stocks return back to sustainable levels.
Laky Zervudachi, director of sustainability at Direct Seafoods, also commented: "As trade sector seafood suppliers we are fully committed to supporting the MSC. It is therefore fantastic news to be able to sell UK caught cod to our demanding customers and dispel any confusion around whether restaurants' should be serving one of our most iconic species. It is also a great tribute to everyone in the industry, from the fishermen themselves through to the NGO's that prove that a fishery that was under such significant pressure previously, can be nursed back to health with commitment, passion and great scientific advice."
George Clark, Senior Commercial Manager at MSC commented; "This is excellent news which I'm sure will help
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