Monday, August 26, 2019

"Where did all the cod go? Fishing crisis in the North Sea"

From The Guardian, August 18:

With an international council now on the brink of declaring the species unsustainable – and Brexit looming – what is the future for one of the nation’s favourite meals.
By 7.30am all the cod at Peterhead fish market had been sold, snapped up by competing buyers wearing thick fleeces, woolly hats and rubber boots against the chill of the vast indoor warehouse.
A gaggle of middle-aged men clutching books of brightly coloured “tallies” followed the auctioneer alongside crates of glassy-eyed fish nestling in ice. With a curt nod or a swift hand gesture, the price was settled, tallies thrown down to indicate the fish’s new owner, and the group moved on. It took less than 10 minutes to dispose of the night’s catch.

Most of the fish would be heading south, to England or mainland Europe. The Scots are not big cod eaters, preferring haddock with their chips. This dates, apparently, from pre-refrigeration days: haddock is a fish best eaten really fresh, whereas cod is tastiest a couple of days after being caught.

The Peterhead buyers were cagey about naming their customers, but the fish they purchased was destined for supermarkets, fishmongers, restaurants, and a few of the classic takeaway chippies that are a national institution. But all this could now be under threat: a report published last month by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (Ices) revealed that North Sea cod stocks had fallen to critical levels. Warning that cod was being harvested unsustainably, it recommended a 63% cut in the catch – and that’s on top of a 47% reduction last year.

Independent auditors are reviewing the Ices report, and by late September they will announce whether the fisheries can retain their Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certificates of sustainability – issued only two years ago – or whether those certificates will be suspended. Depending on the decision, North Sea cod could soon be off the menu.

At Peterhead, Europe’s largest white-fish port, the cod haul was small, perhaps half the amount of the previous night, causing a buyers’ scramble. “It fluctuates,” said an official, shrugging his shoulders.
Stuart Cowie, who has been in the industry for 20 years, said everyone was worried about the Ices advice. “There are too many merchants and too few fish.”

But Will Clark was more sanguine. The managing director of Wilsea had bought 37 boxes of cod that morning, he declared after consulting a small black notebook. The fish would be heading down “the spine of England” – the Midlands and London, which were “strong cod-eating areas” – and across the Channel....