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North Sea Cod Disappearing

October 17, 2009

Officials say cod is disappearing from European fishing grounds. Only steep catch cuts will prevent the disappearance of a species prized for centuries for its flaky white flesh.

The European Commission said recent studies showed cod catches in some areas are far outstripping the rate of reproduction.

Scientists estimated that there were more than 250,000 tons of cod in the 1970s in fishing grounds in the North Sea, eastern English Channel and Scandinavia’s Skagerrak strait. In recent years, however, stocks have dropped to 50,000 tons.

Jose Rodriguez, a marine biologist with Oceana, says, “We are not that far away from a situation of complete collapse.” He and other environmentalists said pressure from the fishing industry had kept quotas at levels too high to sustain a viable populations around Europe, while lack of enforcement meant illegal fishing made the problem worse.

On Friday, The European Commission reported that in 2010 it would seek to cut the catch in some fishing grounds around Britain, France, Spain and much of Scandinavia from 5,700 tons to 4,250 tons.

Bluefin tuna has been overfished for years in the Mediterranean to satisfy the increasing demand for sushi and sashimi. The tuna population is now just a fraction of what it was a few decades ago, but the EU’s Mediterranean nations refuse to impose even a temporary ban.

Meanwhile Cod is increasingly consumed by the ton as salt cod and fish-and-chips.

Mike Guo, a manager at Great Fish and Chips in Essex, England, told the Associated Press,” People don’t ask for fish and chips, they ask for cod and chips.”

The disappearance of hundreds of fishing villages on both sides of the Atlantic is due to the depletion of the species.

Some Canadian scientists believe the collapse of cod stocks off Newfoundland and Nova Scotia changed the marine ecosystem so dramatically that it may be impossible for cod to recover.

Off Newfoundland alone, cod stocks once exceeded more than 400,000 tons but now scale only 5,500 tons, said Tom Hedderson, minister of fisheries in Newfoundland.

Norway and the EU jointly oversee cod stocks in North Sea, with each party regulating the stocks in its waters.

In November Norway and the EU will begin annual negotiations on cod stock management. Ann Kristin Westberg, deputy director-general of Norway’s Fishery Ministry, said her country was unlikely to accept a 25 percent quota.

“We probably want to have it lower,” she said. “We would like to point out that stock the EU are involved in managing are in terrible shape.”

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