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Setting the record straight on mature North Sea cod

19 September 2012

An article in last weekend's Sunday Times (16 September 2012) incorrectly claimed that "fewer than 100 mature cod are left in the North Sea". Such a statement is wrong even though the cod stock does remain severely depleted.

The briefing Cefas gave the Sunday Times journalist about the recovering North Sea cod stock and the positive news about haddock, saithe and plaice at high stock sizes and reasonable levels of exploitation (fishing) were omitted in the final article.

Cefas and other European scientific institutions work together at the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) to monitor and assess the biomass (tonnage) of North Sea cod and other commercial species.

For North Sea cod, it is correct that the international fishing rate (mortality) has been high since the 1980s, and has shown a decline since 2000. The number of young cod (recruitment) has been low since 1987, and even lower since 1998, causing serious concern.

The latest ICES' assessment shows that there has been a gradual improvement in the status of the stock over the last few years. The amount of mature fish (spawning stock biomass) has increased from the historical low in 2006 and shows signs of further improvement.

This has been achieved through the collaboration of fishermen and scientists working together to gain better and more robust scientific evidence upon which to make fisheries management decisions.

The Fisheries Science Partnership and discard-reduction programmes like Project 50%, alongside catch-quota trials run in collaboration with the Marine Management Organisation, have done much to help inform the scientific evidence base and to deliver more sustainable fisheries.

Confusion was inevitable when the Sunday Times attempted to condense complex fish stock information on the back of their request for a briefing about the New Economics Foundation's latest report (see http://www.neweconomics.org/nocatchinvestment).

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Last Modified: 27 April 2014