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North Sea cod - out of the red at last

Article Date: 2015-09-25

But nine other cod stocks are still in a bad way

The iconic European cod fishery which collapsed in the 1980s and has been ailing ever since, has finally increased above dangerously low levels and hauled itself off the Marine Conservation Society’s (MCS’s) Fish to Avoid list.


As part of the charity’s autumn update to its FishOnline website (, North Sea cod is now rated 4 and amber, which means it’s showing signs of improvement.

"It’s fantastic to see this fishery finally off the red list. Years of sacrifice and a lot of hard work have led to population increases above dangerously low levels. Whilst this certainly is a milestone for North Sea cod, the job is not done yet. Efforts of recent years need to continue in order for the fishery to head towards the green end of the spectrum,” says MCS Fisheries Officer, Samuel Stone.

The population needs to increase above precautionary levels, and the fishing mortality should be further reduced to what’s known as the Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY), that’s the maximum level at which the stock can be fished without depleting the population. In fact, all cod stocks in UK waters are still being fished in excess of this level, which is required by law by 2020 at the latest.”

nine other cod stocks in the north east Atlantic that are red rated by MCS. These are cod fished from:

The reformed Common Fisheries Policy and other EU legislation also requires that all fish stocks – that’s the number of fish in the population, not just the number fished - are recovered and maintained at healthy levels.

"The UK has played a major role in the overexploitation of many of these stocks,” says Samuel Stone, "It must now do more to improve their status. To achieve this, significant changes are needed in management including investment in research and monitoring. And many fisheries still need to better avoid incidental catches of juvenile cod when fishing for other fin fish, flat fish and nephrops also known as langoustine or scampi.” 

Cod pieces

*In 2013, the UK imported 116,000t of cod, worth £400million

*Cod is the most imported species into the UK representing 18.7% of fish imports.

*Most imported cod comes from the northeast Arctic and Iceland where cod fisheries are doing very well, but some cod from depleted fisheries finds its way its way into various UK cod products.

*Consumers should ask where exactly their cod is from and seafood businesses should look carefully at their supply chains to ensure they are not inadvertently selling red rated cod. Improved labelling will help and is being campaigned for, meanwhile the MCS website shows how each cod stock is performing.

Good Cod!

The UK imported 20,339t of Atlantic cod from China in 2013. This cod is first caught in Europe, exported to China where it is cheaply processed, and then imported back in various forms of processed products. By this stage it is very difficult to know where the cod in these products was actually caught.

MCS sustainable seafood work is supported by players of the People’s Postcode Lottery.


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Fish Friers