It is sobering to consider that nearly 90% of the world's marine fish stocks are now fully exploited, overexploited or depleted, and there is no doubt that fisheries subsidies play a big role


The ‘Cod War’ and Other Overfishing Incidents

In the 1970s a serious dispute broke out between British and Icelandic fishermen over the Icelandic cod fisheries. British trawlers continued to fish for cod despite a ban on fishing put into place by the Icelandic government, and there were confrontations between British and Icelandic trawlers, which became known as the “Cod War’. There is now a 100-mile exclusion zone around Iceland, in which foreign boats are not allowed to fish. Most cod on sale in Britain is sourced from Iceland and the Barents Sea.

In 2007, stocks of North Sea cod reached a historic low of 37,400 tonnes.  Major conservation efforts including cuts in landing quotas resulted in a 52% recovery in 2010 with an estimated stock of 54,200 tonnes.  This successful conservation project was reported in an article in The Independent

However, this figure was still well below previous figures  -  250,000 tonnes in the 1970s, for example.  Stocks caught by English and Welsh boats are said to have declined by as much as 86% in 100 years. 

Populations were deemed unsustainable by the Marine Conservation Society who want to see stocks increase further before consumers consider stocks from the North Sea. The International Council for Exploration of the Sea estimates between 70,000 - 150,000 tonnes are necessary for a full recovery.  According to an article in the Guardian on 8 April 2015, "cod stocks are improving rapidly and could be certified as sustainable within five years,"

The legal amount of cod, which can be caught in 2020 by the UK’s fishermen, was halved from 2019 amounts . The decision was finalized at Brussels talks on fishing quotas for the coming year. The EU’s rules in the Common Fisheries Policy will apply until December 2020. After Brexit, regulation of the fishing industry in the North Sea will be controlled by the UK. However, even before those discussions, Scottish trawlermen representatives had agreed to a 50% reduction of cod that could be caught to preserve stocks.

Read More: Tuna Fishing

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