Great British Cod and Chips may have a Future – Thanks To Iceland

The Marine Conservation Society News Release

The Marine Conservation Society (MCS) welcomes the announcement that, from September 1st 2007, the quantity of cod that Icelandic fishermen will be allowed to catch will be reduced by nearly one third (31%) to enable stocks to recover, and ensure supplies of cod for the future. Sadly, the future for fish in UK and European Community waters is much less assured. North Sea cod is now teetering on the brink of complete collapse – at current fishing levels the populations are barely able to sustain themselves. As a result the great British tradition of Cod and Chips is in fact no longer British at all - more than 90 per cent of cod consumed in the UK is imported from areas such as Icelandic waters and the Barents Sea.

The pressure MCS has applied on UK supermarkets and fish-producers to source their fish sustainably has, in turn, created demand for a more responsible, science-led approach to fishery management. The decision made last week by the Government of Iceland will bear dividends for fish and fishermen in the future.

Due to a long history of ignoring scientific advice, the European Commission has overseen a dramatic decline in cod populations around the UK. In the North Sea, for example, cod stocks have dropped from over 300 000 tonnes in the 1970s and 80s to the current level of only 30 000 tonnes – largely due to overfishing.

Dr Bryce Beukers-Stewart, Fisheries Policy Officer at MCS says "The recent bold decision by Iceland to cut its cod quotas in line with scientific advice really demonstrates the power of consumer awareness in sustainability”. He continues, “The Icelandic fisheries minister publicly stated that the prime motivation behind this move was to maintain Iceland's reputation as a source of sustainable fish for the British export market. For MCS, this is the ultimate reason for the sustainable seafood movement – collective individual actions are now influencing international fisheries management measures – and helping sustain the long-term future of our fish stocks and marine environment.”

The MCS Sustainable Seafood Programme enables consumers, in the UK and Europe, to make informed choices when buying seafood to secure a sustainable future for fish. The first UK ‘Good Fish Guide' book was published in 2002, followed by development of the widely acclaimed website www.fishonline.org. To provide up-to-date and easily accessible consumer advice about the sustainability of over 150 fish stocks the FISHonline website is updated annually, together with a Pocket Good Fish Guide which provides lists of Fish to Eat and Fish to Avoid.  

MCS has influenced and advised the development of sustainable fish buying policies by many of the key UK food retailers; M&S, Tesco, Waitrose, CoOp, Asda, Somerfield and Sainsbury's have all removed from sale species identified by MCS as “Fish to Avoid”. MCS has also produced guidance for chefs, and advised the House of Commons and several restaurant and hotel chains on the adoption of sustainable seafood policies. Throughout the campaign MCS has engaged in constructive dialogue with fishermen, fish producers, associations, retailers and fish farmers. The Programme has resulted in the stated support of a number of individuals from within the fishing industry for, variously, its “reasonable” position, “thorough and useable advice”, and “robust voice”.

More information about the Sustainable Seafood Programme can be found at the www.fishonline.org website. The MCS Pocket Good Fish Guide, featuring lists of fish to eat and fish to avoid, can be obtained FREE - send a SAE to MCS, call 01989 566017, e-mail info@mcsuk.org or download from the website.