Climate Action

North Sea cod loses sustainability certification after fish population declines

The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) has suspended certificates for North Sea cod fisheries after concerns over sustainability.

  • 27 September 2019
  • Rachel Cooper

The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) has suspended certificates for North Sea cod fisheries after concerns over sustainability.

The MSC has had to suspend certificates for North Sea Cod fisheries after stocks dropped below the safe biological level.

The North Sea cod was previously thought to be in good health, however latest scientific advice shows that this is no longer the case. MSC say it is still unclear what would have caused this decline but can point to a range of factors including warming waters driven by climate change.

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.”

This follows the new Special Report by the IPCC on ‘Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate’. The report, published on Wednesday, found that the ocean has taken up between 20 to 30 per cent of human-induced carbon dioxide emissions since the 1980s, causing ocean acidification.

The IPCC warn continued carbon uptake by the ocean by 2100 will exacerbate ocean acidification which is already disrupting species.

Hans Nieuwenhuis, Regional Director, Northern Europe at the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) said: “The IPCC report demonstrates that progress towards sustainable fisheries management is now more urgent than ever before. Sustainable, well managed fisheries which have effective monitoring, regulation and management systems in place are more resilient and able to adapt to climate change. Yet globally governments and fisheries managers are already struggling to reach consensus on how to manage ocean resources in a way which reflects the new reality of changing climates.”

Cod stocks in the North Sea peaked at 270,000 tonnes in the 1970s, however, by 2006 this had fallen to 44,000 tonnes.

Fast forward ten years, in 2017, the fishery was MSC certified with the stock reaching 152,207 tonnes, the highest since 1982. This was looked to increase with estimated stocks forecasted to hit 180,990 in 2018.

Despite estimations, the 2018 ICES advice included a far smaller stock estimate, a trend that has continued with the latest advice showing a stock of only 81,224 tonnes, below the safe biological level for the stock, putting it in increased danger of collapse. 

This, combined with management shortfalls, including quotas for 2019 set above scientific advice and the lack of a management plan for 2020, resulted in the certificates’ suspension.

The fishing industry will now work collectively to recover the stock over the next five years.

Read the full press release here.