British cod is labelled sustainable for the first time in 20 years

North Sea cod has been certified as sustainable after stocks recover from the brink of near collapse

North Sea cod is now sustainable and can be eaten with a “clear conscience”, according to a fisheries body.

For the first time in the organisation’s history the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) has labelled British cod as sustainable after stocks reached their highest level for 35 years.

North Sea cod stocks had nearly collapsed completely by 2006, but a Cod Recovery Plan was put in place and numbers have since increased fourfold. The plan included limiting the number of fishing days per boat, banning catches in nursery areas, putting larger holes in nets to allow young cod to escape and placing CCTV cameras on board boats to ensure compliance.

Mike Park, chairman of the Scottish Fisheries Sustainable Accreditation Group said: “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 consumer can now eat home-caught cod with a clear conscience.”

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

Environmental campaign groups have welcomed the news, but warn that stocks remain fragile. They say that a focus on sustainable management needs to be maintained. This ‘sustainable’ stock level is defined as roughly 40 per cent of the total estimated to once have been present.

Until now, the North Sea cod stock has never been approved by the MSC in the 20-year history of the non-profit certification group. The stock dropped by 84 per cent between the early 1970s, when it peaked at 270,000 tonnes, and 2006 when stocks fell to just 44,000 tonnes.

The change in status, announced this week, comes after an 18-month study, which has resulted in the stock gaining five-year approval, subject to annual checks.

UK citizens eat about 70,000 tonnes of cod a year, 90 per cent of which is currently imported. It comes from countries including Iceland, Norway and Russia, which have all gained MSC sustainability certification in recent years.

Sustainable North Sea cod will carry the MSC’s blue label and could be in seen in supermarkets as early as next week.

Image: Lark Rise pictures

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