I was planning a brief summary of cod wars and arguments over fishing zones, but after a little digging I found that many countries, particularly the UK, have been involved in a row over cod fishing at one time or another, and I just don’t have time to go into it all.
So, the point is that the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) was adopted by the EU in the early 80s and meant that fishing quotas were introduced for member countries. As new members arrived quotas were quickly used up and, as if to create more arguments over rights, European countries expanded their exclusive fishing zones up to 200 miles offshore. Also, some European fishermen headed off to the Newfoundland Coast in search of cod and started a row with the Canadians who were likewise struggling with depleted stocks.
The situation is much more complicated than this, but the point of this blog is that cod is at risk, yet the European Commission is still providing fishing quotas to member countries, against the advice of scientists and environmentalists.
Cod can live for 20 – 30 years and can grow to over 1.5m long, weighing more than 90 kilos. Gadus morhua (Atlantic cod) are vulnerable according to the IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species and are highly exploited. As for all organisms with indeterminate growth, fecundity increases with body mass and in cod, the number of eggs per female increases with body mass as a power function. At present the immature fish are unable to reproduce quickly enough to match exploitation. Instead of a ban on cod fishing, in order to allow stocks to regenerate, quotas have been dished out again (in December 2006 EU ministers only cut cod allowable catch by 14%) and the cod are struggling on. From the symposium on cod recovery held in Edinburgh in March this year: ‘The Commission believes that reductions in fishing effort and in fishing mortality have been insufficient to achieve cod recovery and that the cod recovery plan must therefore be revised’. The International Council for Exploration of the Sea (ICES) has called for a complete ban on cod fishing to allow for a recovery plan to take effect, even though plans so far seem to have failed and a ban is highly unlikely.
So why can we still buy cod?
It may be that most of the cod for sale in our shops and chip shops is legally caught, but not everyone declares (or knows?!?!) how the fish was caught, and isn’t this just avoiding the problem and putting pressure on different resources?
Suppliers such as No Catch are now providing cod grown from codlings in sea pens and the fish don’t have to be caught at sea at all. Aquaculture, however, can bring its own problems e.g. pollution from open net cage fish farms and land based fish farms, and use of wild-caught fish for feed.
So what if we all change to eating different fish?
I think I’ll leave the issue of bycatch (or discard – non-targeted marine life caught during fishing) for another day, suffice it to say, trawling for the fish on your table which you think is from a sustainable supply could have a potentially devastating effect on marine ecology. A global discard rate of 8% means that 7.3 million tonnes (FAO estimate excluding marine animals and plants) of fish are thrown back each year, most of which die or are already dead.
Image from http://www.replicafish.co.uk/