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North Sea cod 'could be awarded sustainable label'

British-caught cod could be certified by the MSC within the next 18 months.

Fisheries: Cod stocks collapsed in the 1980s (file pic).
Fisheries: Cod stocks collapsed in the 1980s (file pic).

North Sea cod could soon be back on the menu for shoppers and diners who care if their fish is sustainable, as an assessment begins to see if the stock is well managed.

Some consumers have avoided the popular fish for more than a decade amid concerns about overfishing, but it has now been entered for a Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) assessment to show it is sustainably sourced.

If successful, British-caught cod could be certified by the MSC within the next 18 months, allowing it to carry the "blue tick" eco-label that shows seafood is sustainable.

The move has been organised by a coalition of fishing organisations, supermarkets, seafood brands and industry body Seafish, following significant efforts to boost stocks by Scottish and English fishermen

North sea cod stocks collapsed in the 1980s as a result of overfishing, tumbling from a peak of 270,000 tonnes in the 1970s when Scottish and English cod was widely sold and enjoyed.

Stocks had fallen to just 44,000 tonnes by 2006, but recently rose above dangerously low levels, reaching 149,000 tonnes last year.

The turnaround in the fishery's fortunes was achieved by fishermen collectively adopting sustainable practices such as modifying fishing nets to prevent accidental catches of cod in the mixed fishery.

They have also adopted "real time" closures which shut down areas of the sea when fishermen see they are catching juvenile cod, and sea area closures to protect spawning females.

Now it is hoped the popular fish can pass the "ultimate test" of assessment against the MSC's science-based standards to show it is well managed and sustainable.

Toby Middleton, programme director for MSC in the UK and North Atlantic, said: "Whether battered and wrapped up with a portion of chips, or served in a fine dining restaurant, cod is one of Britain's best-loved and most iconic fish, so this is very welcome news.

"The fishing industry has worked hard to improve stocks and if the assessment against the MSC standard is successful, shoppers and diners will soon be able to choose British-caught, North Sea cod with confidence, knowing it's been certified as sustainable."

Mike Park, chairman of the Scottish Fisheries Sustainable Accreditation Group, said: "The MSC standard is the most credible and robust benchmark there is for seafood sustainability, and the logical next step in demonstrating that North Sea cod is now sustainable.

"Getting to this point has required a huge commitment and personal sacrifice from Scottish fishermen, who have worked hard to recover North Sea cod."

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