MSC suspends North Sea cod stock‘s sustainable fishing certificate

BBC News reports, 25th September 2019: The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) said certificates for North Sea cod fisheries would be suspended as stocks were below the “safe biological level”.

A “blue tick” had been awarded in 2017, meaning cod could be eaten “with a clear conscience“.
The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) said the suspension was “devastating” but that stock levels were “worrying”.

The Scottish government said the loss of accreditation for cod stocks was “very disappointing”.
The fish had been considered under threat for more than a decade after stocks were said to have fallen to about 40,000 tonnes in 2006. The industry agreed measures to help regenerate the population, including new nets and closing spawning areas to fishing.

However in June, the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (Ices) warned cod was being “harvested unsustainably”. Ices said stocks in the North Sea had plummeted to critical levels, and recommended a catch reduction.

Erin Priddle, MSC programme director for UK and Ireland, said: “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.

“While this news is devastating for industry, it is a testament to the MSC standard working as it should. Now, more than ever, we need coordination and cooperation for the sustainability of our oceans and the marine life within.”

Mike Park, chairman of the Scottish Fisheries Sustainable Accreditation Group (SFSAG), said: “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.”
The announcement was “no surprise” said environmental charity WWF, which added that governments must ensure the UK’s fisheries are better managed.

“That starts with a new, ambitious and effective Fisheries Bill in Westminster, with a clear duty to fish sustainably and prove accountability with onboard monitoring,” said Helen McLachlan, the charity’s fisheries programme manager.

“At the moment, less than 1% of fishing boats are monitored at sea and this has to change. Onboard cameras and sensors are essential to avoid the further decimation of fish populations.

“We must recover and protect the UK’s seas, if we are to build climate resilience and a long-term future for our marine wildlife and the fishing fleets and coastal communities that depend so heavily on it.”

A Scottish government spokeswoman said: “The loss of accreditation for this iconic stock is very disappointing. We are working with the industry and with other fishing nations to establish the multi-national response needed to ensure sustainable fishing while maintaining economic fleet viability.
“We are long-standing champions of the Scottish fishing industry and will continue to ensure the needs of industry, coastal communities and the marine environment are met, with sustainable and inclusive growth across all sectors.”

BBC News, 25th September 2019. For further details, see
Marinet observes: Those who have followed Marinet’s work over the years will know how we have documented the decline in the North Sea cod stock between 1880 and 2010 due to over-fishing, revealing that levels are now barely 1% or 2% of what they once were.

You will also have observed how we have advocated to the EU Commission during its 2012-2014 reform procedures for the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) that marine reserves be established in fish spawning and nursery grounds in order to restore stocks to as near historic levels as current ecological conditions will allow (i.e. taking account of warming waters, destruction of seabed habitat and other changes).

You will also have observed that we have informed ICES and fisheries administrators that it is essential that Descriptor 3 of the EU’s Marine Strategy Framework Directive be implemented in full and that net sizes used by fishermen must be enlarged to ensure that adult fish survive beyond one year of sexual maturity before being fished from the sea.

Has any of this advice and exhortation made any difference?

The fact that the North Sea cod stock in EU waters has collapsed again in 2018-2019 — whilst remaining healthy in Norwegian and Icelandic waters — would suggest that the EU Commission and its fisheries administrators have heeded none of this advice.

Why is this?

It is probably because the fishing industry lobby is too wealthy and powerful, meaning that fisheries administrators (including fisheries ministers) are impotent in terms of their ability to control real politik and hence are unable to curtail the industry’s activity. Why else would fishing quotas continuously be set in exceedance of scientific advice in around 50% of stocks? Why else would the installation of CCTV have not been installed on all fishing vessels and scrupulously monitored to ensure quotas are strictly observed?

If you’ve got a better explanation other than the role of the industry itself in this madness, we’d like to hear it.

Why would the fishermen themselves pursue such an insane approach?

It is probably because the small independent fisherman no longer exists and the fishing industry is now in the hands of a small cartel where around two-thirds of the UK quota is owned by around 25 businesses and this cartel just sees fish stocks in economic terms, not ecological terms.  In other words, the cartel is interested only in the profit today, and hang tomorrow.

So, what is need for change?

The answer is either collapse, as happened in Canada’s Newfoundland cod fishery — the world’s largest cod fishery — leading to a total prohibition of fishing, but the stock has never recovered so there is no redemption there.  Or, government has to exert its sovereign powers as a government and insist on a sound, ecosystem-based approach which respects the integrity of the sea and its fish stocks, as has happened in Norway and Iceland.

Will it happen here, in the North Sea?

The EU does not look like a good bet.  Its track record is terrible.  Can the UK do what Norway and Iceland have done, assuming we leave the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy?

The answer to that question actually depends on you, the voter.  In other words, it is time for you to make democracy count.


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