North Sea cod. A wildlife conservation success story

In the 1960s and 1970s North Sea cod was still cheap and available, and large numbers of British boats set out to sea to catch it. But, according to a recent article in the Independent, worldwide fish stocks are falling because technologically advanced fishing methods have allowed widespread overfishing. The North Sea cod is only one example. In past decades, the British fishing industry not only used advanced fishing methods but encouraged bigger fleets, leading to the decimation of the North Sea cod.  As a result, not only the fish, but also the fishing industry has suffered.

Having finally realized they can’t go on fishing until the cod and other fish are depleted, British fishing fleets now cooperate with conservationists and environmentalists. They have embraced lowered quotas and other regulations that have allowed the fish to begin to recover. For example, 122 Scottish boats now allow the government to install onboard video cameras designed to discourage environmentally damaging fishing practices. At the suggestion of environmentalists and conservationists they have changed the mesh in their nets to avoid catching juveniles. In other words, the return of the North Sea cod is an example of how intelligent environmental regulation and conservation efforts benefits everyone—the fish, the industry, and the consumer.

Once on the brink of extinction, the North Sea cod is now being caught sustainably for the first time in a decade. Stocks of cod have risen by 52 percent over the past four years. According to the Independent, “marine scientists said the recovery was evident and welcome, but cautioned the fish was present at only a fraction of its natural level.”

“North Sea cod has risen from 37,400 tonnes in 2007 to 54,250 tonnes this year. The International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, which advises the EU, estimates the amount required for a recovery is between 70,000 and 150,000 tonnes.”

Although, 150,000 tonnes does not reflect its historic levels, this amount will ensure that the North Sea cod will not go the way of the Newfoundland cod, which has not recovered from its decimation from overfishing 20 years ago.