North Sea cod was awarded a certificate of sustainability by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) two years ago, but the latest news is these certificates are going to be suspended because of stocks dropping below the safe biological level.
The latest scientific advice from ICES is that the stock is below the safe biological level (only 81,224 tonnes), 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 by the MSC.
The most recent analysis of the stock by ICES shows that the Spawning Stock Biomass (SSB) is barely half the minimum level, with a removal rate nearly double the maximum limit. Looking back and using new detailed data since 2016 the ICES assessment in fact shows that the SSB in 2016 never rose above the minimum as was thought but was actually 22% below it.
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 primarily through improving fishing selectivity and avoiding spawning grounds, features that were instrumental in the fishery attaining MSC certification.