Fish and chips for tea! North Sea cod is back on the nation's menu

By Grimsby Telegraph | Posted: 19 Jul 2017

NORTH Sea cod is back on the menu, after the Marine Stewardship Council certified it as sustainable.

Much of the work has been led in Grimsby, with Seafish working in partnership with Icelandic Seachill and Young’s Seafood, as well as fishermen’s organisations in Britain.

Celebrations across the seafood industry - from catch to plate - followed today's announcement, the culmination of many years of collaboration across all sectors.

The decision to fund the application was the headline news to come from Grimsby’s hosting of World Seafood Congress 2015.

It is the culmination of many years’ work which has involved collaboration across all sectors of the industry, with the decision to fund the application the headline news to come from the town’s hosting of World Seafood Congress 2015.

Marcus Coleman, chief executive of Seafish, said: “This is brilliant news for both the industry and consumers, and Seafish is delighted to see North Sea cod awarded MSC certification. It is our mission to support a profitable, sustainable and socially responsible seafood industry, and this is a shining example of how industry and science can work together for a profoundly positive outcome.”

As recently as 2006, stocks of cod fell to a historical low, leading to the implementation of a ‘Cod Recovery Plan’ developed by the EU Fisheries Council and Norway. The successful recovery plan, together with efforts from an industry coalition, has seen North Sea cod pass an independent assessment against the MSC’s strict standard.

Cod is one of the most widely eaten fish species in the UK, hugely popular with consumers and a staple ingredient in the nation's favourite dish, fish and chips. 

The MSC set standards for sustainable fishing and supply chain traceability. Products which pass these standards are awarded the blue MSC label which gives consumers assurance that their favourite fish is sustainably sourced and fully traceable. This certification not only enhances the reputation of North Sea cod, but helps widen the number of sustainable choices available to the British consumer, enabling them to eat more fish more often.

MORE: World's biggest fish and chip restaurant to host Humber Seafood Summit 2017

Claire Pescod, senior fisheries outreach manager MSC UK & Ireland, said: "Today's certification marks the end of the cod confusion. If you can see the MSC label on your cod, you know that it has come from a sustainable source.

“Thanks to a collaborative, cross-industry effort, one of our most iconic fish has been brought back from the brink.”

While the catching benefits for the UK are likely to centre on Peterhead, with first landing sales toasted today in the Scottish port, Grimsby is eyeing up the processing prestige. Simon Dwyer, of Seafood Grimsby and Humber, secretariat to Grimsby Fish Merchants’ Association, said: “The sustainable certification of North Sea cod is positive for the UK catching sector and consumers. For our regional seafood processing sector, we don’t envisage the cod being landed in Grimsby but we expect a positive impact for our processing businesses.

“Major UK retailers such as Waitrose have indicated they will offer the cod to their consumers and therefore, we would expect to see North Sea cod being sent to Grimsby for processing which will enhance our credentials as the UK’s main centre for the processing of chilled fish. “Consumers eat all types of fish species from Grimsby and they’ll now enjoy eating North Sea cod.”

Great Grimsby MP Melanie Onn, who has just been made joint chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Fisheries, said: "This really highlights how good stock management and sustainable fishing - hard decisions - deliver better fish availability.

“The certification will benefit local producers of cod products, as consumers increasingly want to know where their food is coming from.

“It’s vital to our industry that stocks are managed sustainably, to ensure we’re not overfishing and have continuous supply.

“This success story demonstrates the importance of co-operation with neighbouring countries, so we don’t have a race to the bottom on fishing which only leads to the depletion of cod and other fish stocks.”

How the excitement built: We rewind to World Seafood Congress 2015, and the main hall at Grimsby Institute: 

READ ALL ABOUT IT: Key figures behind Grimsby's hosting of World Seafood Congress 2015 tuck into the Grimsby Telegraph's special business publication produced for the event, which saw North Sea cod certification ambition emerge as a key theme.

During World Seafood Congress 2015, itself a coup for the town as the bi-annaul event is held in cities around the world, the prospect of a certification application was raised.

Describing the potential certification as a "game changer", Seafish's technical director, Dr Tom Pickerell, spoke to the large delegation of international seafood experts, having reported back 12 months earlier on work that had identified improvements in the vast fishery on Britain, Iceland and Norway’s doorstep.

He said: “Project Inshore identified the fact the North Sea cod fishery had everything in place except the stock levels.

“It said if it exceeded the precautionary safe limit it would be eligible for certification, with conditions that it keeps extending. We were waiting for this, and it is amazing news.

"There is nothing to stop us going forward now. This is so iconic, and not necessarily about one fishery. It is a symbol, one that is known globally for all the wrong reasons. It is always quoted, it was the poster child for bad fishing, yet now we are one step away from MSC certification.

IN-DEPTH WORK: Dr Tom Pickerell, left, with Mike Mitchell, then Young's Seafood's CSR director.

“What this is saying to the world is that we have turned it round, and that is the marine managers, the scientists and the industry. Everyone has wanted this.”

Mr Pickerell said that most members of the public will be unaware of where their fish comes from, but that this had the makings of a huge story if the certification can be landed.

“The positivity of this is going to reach the consumer. This is good, and hopefully it will counter the messages that have been negative.

“Fish stocks are improving, there are still problems, still issues in our waters, but . This will give UK buyers the big tick to purchase it. It will enable them to maintain high standards of corporate social responsibility while sourcing locally, giving them all the provenance benefits. The supply chain will benefit, it is saying to the catchers ‘you have done your bit, now we can do ours’.”

It was announced in the main hall at Grimsby Institute as Icelandic Seachill launched its new corporate social responsibility (CSR) approach - Quality, Naturally - committing to sustainability, ethics and authenticity.

Nigel Edwards, technical and CSR director, said: “Our efforts to team up with fishermen’s organisations, processors and retailers to champion a sustainable North Sea cod fully demonstrate our commitment and approach to CSR. We pride ourselves in leading from the front and taking proactive steps to unite all sections of the supply chain to improve standards in sustainability, ethics and authenticity.

“We know this builds trust and confidence from the net to the shelf to the plate."

Dr Carl O’Brien of Cefas, the Government’s science-based fisheries advisor, said: “Things are moving in the right direction in sustainable fisheries and a move to slightly bigger quotas.

“We have seen a 15 per cent increase in cod. Icelandic Seachill is moving to certify, which will take a further 18 months to two years, and it is all good news.

“Eco-system management is achievable, we have clearly established goals in the UK, and we understand the base line we are starting from and have achievable objectives. “Stock status is a cause for optimism. Fisheries and the environment are coming closer together for a way forward for the future. ” 

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