The issues of overfishing and rapidly decreasing fish stocks have raised alarm for many years, but now it looks like things have reached a tipping point in the North Sea. According to a new survey conducted at European ports, the North Sea may only have around 100 adult cod left – and this could spell a bleak future for the fish as their low life expectancy means a lower birth rate and a faster decline. Simultaneously, the New Economics Foundation (NEF) think tank has proposed freezing fishing in Europe that that all stocks can return to sustainable levels within five years.
While those five years would be exceptionally hard on fishermen, NEF believes that the five year ban would generate billions of pounds in profits by 2023. They also added that private investment would compensate fishermen and maintain boats till then. A senior UK fishing industry representative has said that stocks are improving and that the idea made no sense, although research from Defra’s fishery laboratory the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas) seems to contradict what the representative states.
Chris Darby, head of the Cefas team, said: “Our latest assessments suggest in 2011 there were 600 cod aged 12 to 13 in the North Sea, of which about 200 were caught. None of the catches recorded at North Sea ports around Europe showed any fish aged 13 or over. Analysis of that data suggests there are fewer than 100 such fish in the whole North Sea.”
Currently in the EU, 75% of stocks are still overfished and catches are only a fraction of what they were 15-20 years ago. However in their report No Catch Investment, NEF said it had calculated the costs of restoring fish stocks and found they were far outweighed by the economic benefits in the short and long term.
The question is: can the UK and European populations live without fish and chips for five years?