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WWF issues warning on cod stocks

The Western Mail

25th May 2004

ILLEGAL fishing and industrial development is threatening the world's largest remaining cod stocks, according to a new report.

WWF warn that fish quotas for the Barents Sea have been set at 100,000 tonnes over what is considered as sustainable by scientists.

Anything up to a further 100,000 tonnes of cod is thought to be caught illegally caught every year.

Cod stocks are managed by Russia and Norway and account for half of the global catch.

WWF said while it appears to be healthy, this situation may not last.

But the problem is that the age of the majority of the spawning stock in the Barents Sea has got much lower because the mature fish have already been fished.

WWF said it is significant because eggs and larvae of first time spawners are less likely to successfully develop.

Older fish produce more eggs and so are more productive. If there are only younger fish left, the whole stock is less reproductive.

WWF said threats to the Barents Sea cod stock are increasing with the expansion of petroleum exploration and shipping activities.

WWF fears that the growing cod farming industry could result in disease transfer to wild cod or genetic inter-breeding with escaped farm fish.

Climate change could add further pressure on fish stocks in the Arctic, including cod.

As stocks become ever more depleted in the North Sea and off the Atlantic Coast of the United States and Canada, the world's fishing fleets search for new fishing grounds like the Barents Sea where stock levels are in a slightly better state.

Helen Davies WWF fisheries policy officer said, "Over-fishing continues because fisheries policies are driven by short-term economic and political interests.

"In several areas, like the North Sea and the Barents Sea, scientists have recommended for several years that fishing quotas should be significantly reduced to allow stock to recover but this advice has largely been ignored and business carries on as usual."

In order to prevent the Barents Sea cod stock suffering a similar fate as the Canadian cod stock, which collapsed in the 1980s, WWF is urging the Russian and Norwegian governments to immediately set stricter cod quotas, in accordance with scientists’ recommendations and to implement tighter controls of all fishing activities in the Barents Sea to reduce illegal fishing.

The global catch of cod has plummeted by 70% over the past 30 years.

In 1970 3.1 million tonnes of cod was caught worldwide in comparison to just 950,000 tonnes in 2000.

The catch of North Sea cod is now just 25% of what it was 15 years ago and in the North America cod fishery the catch has declined by 90% since the early 1980s.

Helen Davies said, "Here in the UK the government must follow the recommendations of its own Strategy Unit's report on the future of our fishery and take some tough decisions.