MSC certification for North Sea cod is withdrawn from 24th October

The Marine Stewardship Council certification for North Sea cod – which was finally achieved in 2017 after a long process and a tough set of measures implemented by the fishing industry – is to be withdrawn from 24th October.

The decision is made on the basis of the latest scientific advice which presents a stark picture of a stock that had been believed to be in a healthy state, but which in fact appears to have suffered a serious decline.

According to the MSC, 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.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has just publish a landmark report on climate change and oceans. This report will add to the mounting evidence of the profound impact that climate change is having on the distribution and health of fish stocks. To adapt to climate change, progress towards sustainable fisheries management is now more urgent than ever before, the MSC states.

Certification for North Sea cod was awarded in 2017, and is to be withdrawn as stock assessments show the stock has weakened

‘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,’ commented Erin Priddle, MSC’s UK and Ireland Programme Director.

‘The seas are a dynamic and ever-changing ecosystem. However, changes in the marine environment are accelerating under climate-related impacts and will continue to present significant challenges for achieving sustainable fisheries unless we can find ways to adapt management and fishing practices to ensure fishing can be carried out sustainably.’

North Sea cod has a history of large-scale fluctuations, from a peak of a 270,000 tonne stock in the 1970s to a just 44,000 tonnes in 2006, resulting in substantial cutbacks and a Cod Recovery Plan that brought in a swathe of tough restrictions.

In 2017, the fishery was MSC certified as the stock reached 152,207 tonnes, its highest since 1982, and as the stock as predicted to pass 180,000 tonnes in 2018. But ICES concluded a much smaller 2018 stock assessment, of only 81,224 tonnes, ultimately leading to the decision to withdraw MSC certification.

‘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 co-ordination and co-operation for the sustainability of our oceans and the marine life within,’ Erin Priddle said.

5-year FIP commitment

The Scottish fishing industry has committed to a five-year Fishery Improvement Project in an effort to return the stock to health.

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,’ said SFSAG chairman Mike Park.
‘We will be liaising closely with managers to ensure that these measures apply to all vessels operating within the mixed demersal fishery.’

The DFPO Denmark North Sea & Skagerrak cod & saithe, Norway North Sea demersal, and Scottish Fisheries Sustainable Accreditation Group (SFSAG) North Sea cod fisheries are affected by the withdrawal of certification, which takes effect on 24th October.