NGOs the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF) and Our Fish called for cameras to be installed on UK vessels to ensure North Sea cod, which attained Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) approval late on Tuesday, remains sustainable after the country’s exit from the European Union.
The WWF praised the efforts of fishermen in getting the fishery MSC approved, which has seen the fish return to Waitrose’s fish counters after an 18-year absence, adding that now is the time to embrace new technology in onboard cameras.
“The recovery of cod in the North Sea reflects what’s possible if fishermen work together with fisheries managers, scientists and the wider industry to recover fish stocks. However, the amount of North Sea cod at breeding age is well below late 1960s levels and recovery remains fragile,” Lyndsey Dodds, head of UK marine policy at WWF, said.
“If we’re to get North Sea cod back on British plates for good, it’s vital that we don’t lose focus on sustainably managing fish stocks and ensuring the protection of the marine wildlife and habitats as the UK develops its post-Brexit fisheries policy,” said Dodds.
“Embracing new technology and installing cameras on the UK fleet would be a highly cost-effective and efficient way to help manage and monitor cod catches, as well as the range of other fish also caught by these boats,” she said.
“With North Sea cod set to hit UK supermarket shelves again, both retailers and the MSC must demonstrate to consumers that not only are these cod stocks sustainable, but that illegal discarding is not taking place in the fishery,” said Our Fish campaign manager Rebecca Hubbard.
“Given the historically high levels of discarding in the North Sea cod fishery, fishing vessels should at least have onboard electronic monitoring to give assurance that no illegal and unreported discarding is taking place. Failure to implement such monitoring would not only undermine credibility in the fishery, it will undermine the progress made to revitalize the fishery itself,” she said.
The reformed common fisheries policy introduced the landing obligation in December 2013, making it illegal for fishermen to throw away certain species at sea, and requiring that all catches are counted against their quotas.
It has been phased in since 2015, and will be entirely implemented across European seas by 2019, with North Sea cod coming under the landing obligation this year.
A report from the Scheveningen Control Experts Group highlighted the high risk of illegal discarding by the trawl sector, however.
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According to Hubbard, the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) estimates that over 18,000 metric tons of North Sea cod could be discarded in 2018.
“Failure to stop this discarding will threaten the success of improving fisheries, like North Sea cod, and introduce illegality into the seafood supply chain,” she said.
ICES, however, recently gave a very positive outlook for stocks in the fishery.
On June 30, ICES said the North Sea cod fishery could take an increase in quota of as much as 20,000t.
According to the latest advice, “catches in 2018 should be no more” than 59,888t.
In December 2016, the quota was set at 39,220t, an increase of 16.5% year-on-year. However, ICES had advised the quota could be as high as 47,431t for 2017.