The success of our sustainable seafood campaign means that many UK supermarkets now source most of their cod from Icelandic waters - which are the healthiest when compared to the battered state of other European stocks (in the North, Baltic and Barents seas, for example), but also a region in which fish numbers are declining. This decline is now having a great influence on Iceland's approach to managing its cod stocks.
Iceland wants to maintain its good reputation for sustainability and, for what is probably the first time ever in Europe, is following the advice of its scientists and drastically cutting its cod quotas as recommended this year (from 190,000 tonnes down to 130,000 tonnes). And they're not too proud to admit that the decision is due to pressure from their main customer - the major UK supermarkets. If that isn't surprising enough, they are delaying the start of the capelin fishing season this year as it's the cod's main prey. That's almost like management from an ecosystem perspective... whatever next!
And it's having an interesting effect on UK producers. A recent editorial from seafood industry bible seafoodnews.com describes the development as "a wind of change " which will "end up saving the wild fisheries by essentially giving the industry no choice".
You can read the whole article below (or more likely just skip to the bold text for the key quotes). Then wake me up please, I must be dreaming...
Winds of Change
(Editorial comment on North Atlantic cod, July 12 2007)*
Will our future in the seafood industry be one of selling cod or tilapia? Although we all encourage the growth of aquaculture as a way to put fish on the plate, the true affinity for fish and seafood comes from people's attachment to wild caught natural species - like cod, crab, swordfish and tuna.
Most seafood has very marked regional consumption patterns, which can be traced back to the biological abundance and trade patterns of seafood that existed for hundreds of years. People who have grown up on certain types of fish (i.e. real fish means cod), don't change their habits easily, despite the flood of tilapia, basa, and other aquaculture species.
In short, even though tilapia and basa and catfish look white, they are not true North Atlantic whitefish. Real whitefish means traditional cod, haddock, and pollock.
Iceland has taken a major step to preserve wild Atlantic cod, and I don't think the significance has been fully appreciated in the industry.
Today we run several articles on the Icelandic quota cuts. What is remarkable is that this is almost the first time a European government has actually set a quota according to the scientific advice. Routinely the Marine Institute in Iceland and ICES in Europe recommend biological quotas that are then exceeded by fisheries ministers.
This has led to chronic overfishing, the collapse of North Sea cod, and threats to Barents Sea cod.
The Icelandic quota was cut from around 190,000 tons to 130,000 tons, far more than industry observers were expecting.
The reduction will cut about 1% off the GDP growth in Iceland. That is real money, and it will have real consequences, which we also report on.
But the bankers say that Iceland's economy is in good shape to absorb this kind of hit, due to the performance of the non-fishing sectors.
What is interesting is the candid observation by the fisheries minister that Iceland took the drastic quota action to preserve its reputation among its largest customers. These are the British consumers of Iceland cod.
Many British retailers have demanded suppliers become certified by the MSC, or provide equivalent proof that fisheries are sustainable. Had Iceland failed to follow scientific advice on its cod stocks, it risked becoming a target - where groups like Greenpeace would force supermarkets to avoid buying Iceland's cod.
The long term history of the Atlantic cod stocks is a disaster, with Canadian stocks in a situation where the change in the environment means they will likely never recover in our economic lifetimes. Iceland quotas and harvests are now at their lowest level in the past 50 years, and the chart we print shows just how steady the decline has been.
But the government's determination to save the cod stock may finally be a breath of fresh air. It has come about through a strange mixture of environmental and customer pressure. Similarly, efforts to crack down on illegal fishing in the Barents Sea are gaining strength in Norway due to extreme public pressure.
This represents the winds of change. It is possible that this pressure will end up saving the wild fisheries by essentially giving the industry no choice. Only at that point does overfishing really stop. Governments alone won't do it, as their industries can often override scientific advice, or influence the scientists themselves.
No longer can we assume that we can get by one more year without painful economic losses from fish conservation measures. The ability to recognize this will mean Iceland keeps its reputation as a leader in wild fish conservation-possibly for the good of all who grew up eating seafood from the North Atlantic.
Read the article in its original form here (you'll need to register and log on to the seafoodnews.com website first).