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British cod gains first MSC certification

North Sea cod officially designated as sustainable will soon be sold in supermarkets and restaurants for the first time in 20 years after English and Scottish cod boats were awarded MSC certification.

Over a decade since North Sea cod stocks came close to collapse, North Sea cod has passed an independent assessment against the MSC’s standard meaning – subject to strict traceability requirements – North Sea cod can now be sold bearing the MSC ‘blue tick’ label.

The certification applies to boats that are members of the Scottish Fisheries Sustainable Accreditation Group and is the result of a collaboration between a coalition of fishing organisations with support from supermarkets, seafood brands and the industry body, Seafish.

The British public consumes nearly 70,000 tonnes of cod each year, however a YouGov survey carried out for the MSC found that more than one in three UK adults (35%) admitted that they don’t know if cod is sustainable or not, and whether people should, or should not, be eating it.

Cod stocks in the North Sea peaked at 270,000 tonnes in the 1970s, however, stocks fell to just 44,000 tonnes in 2006 since when the industry has worked with the Scottish Government and EU Fisheries Council to agree and implement a ‘Cod Recovery Plan’ aimed at nursing the stock back to health.

“Thanks to a collaborative, cross-industry effort, one of our most iconic fish has been brought back from the brink,” said Toby Middleton, MSC programme director, North East Atlantic. “Modified fishing gear, catch controls, well-managed fishing practices – all these steps have come together to revive a species that was in severe decline.”

Campaigners welcomed the move but cautioned that recovery of stocks remains fragile. “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 Lyndsey Dodds, head of UK marine policy at WWF.