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North Sea cod loses MSC status

North Sea cod fisheries have lost their Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certificates just two years after being awarded the blue tick eco-label, following evidence that stocks have dropped below the safe biological level.

The suspension, which affects all MSC certified fisheries targeting the North Sea cod stock, will become effective as of 24th October 2019. Cod caught by these fisheries after this date will not be eligible to be sold with the blue MSC label.

The latest scientific advice changes the perception of the North Sea cod stock – previously thought to be in good health. The causes of the decline are unclear, however scientists suggest it may be a result of factors such as warming waters – driven by climate change – and fewer young cod surviving into adulthood for the last two years running.

This decline has occurred despite industry initiatives to actively avoid catching juvenile fish; critical in the reproduction cycle and overall health of the stock.

Erin Priddle, UK and Ireland programme director for the Marine Stewardship Council, explains: “The decline in the North Sea cod stock is a worrying development, with the latest stock models suggesting that the fishery has not recovered as well as previously thought.

“The MSC programme was established to recognise and reward sustainable fisheries and is designed to identify when certified fisheries are not performing as they should against our Standard. The independent auditors have now examined the latest advice and concluded that this drop in the stock – below the safe biological level – coupled with a recommended sharp cut to quotas and management shortfalls means that the North Sea cod fishery no longer meets the MSC Standard.

“While this news is devastating for industry, it is a testament to the MSC Standard working as it should: to pick up on threats to stock sustainability, as is the case with North Sea cod. It is imperative that industry works collaboratively with fishery managers, NGOs and the wider seafood supply chain to introduce effective measures that will see this fishery once again achieve certification. Now, more than ever, we need coordination and cooperation for the sustainability of our oceans and the marine life within.”

The Scottish fishing industry has committed to a five-year project, known as a Fishery Improvement Project, to return the stock to health.

Mike Park, chairman of the SFSAG, explains: “The industry are concerned that notwithstanding their best efforts to continue to rebuild North Sea cod some developments are taking place that seem beyond their control. That said, they are committed to introducing balanced and proportionate measures in an attempt to reverse the decline. We will be liaising closely with managers to ensure that these measures apply to all vessels operating within the mixed demersal fishery.”

The fisheries affected by this suspension are DFPO Denmark North Sea & Skagerrak cod & saithe, Norway North Sea demersal and Scottish Fisheries Sustainable Accreditation Group (SFSAG) North Sea cod.

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