EU officials warn overfishing may lead to cod disappearing
BRUSSELS - Cod is slipping closer to disappearing from key European fishing grounds, officials warned yesterday, saying that only steep catch cuts will prevent the loss of a species prized for centuries for its flaky, white flesh.
The European Union’s executive body called for sharp cuts in the amount of cod fisherman can catch next year - up to 25 percent in some areas. The European Commission said recent studies showed cod catches in some areas are far outstripping the rate of reproduction of a fish that fed coastal communities for centuries.
Scientists estimated that there were more than 250,000 tons of cod in important fishing grounds in the North Sea, eastern British Channel, and Scandinavia’s Skagerrak strait in the 1970s, but stocks have dropped to 50,000 tons in recent years.
“We are not that far away from a situation of complete collapse,’’ said Jose Rodriguez, a marine biologist with the environmental group Oceana.
The European Commission said it will seek to cut the catch in some fishing grounds around Britain, France, Spain, and much of Scandinavia from 5,700 tons this year to 4,250 tons in 2010.
Rodriguez and other environmentalists said political pressure from the fishing industry meant quotas were too high to sustain a viable population of cod in the waters around Europe. Lack of enforcement meant illegal fishing made the problem far worse.
In the Mediterranean, the bluefin tuna has been overfished for years to satisfy the world’s increasing demand for sushi and sashimi. Its population is a fraction of what it was a few decades ago, but the EU’s Mediterranean nations refused last month to back a temporary ban.
Cod is consumed by the ton as salt cod and fish and chips, and once sustained vibrant fishing communities from Portugal to Canada.
“People don’t ask for fish and chips, they ask for cod and chips,’’ said Mike Guo, 26, a manager at Great Fish and Chips in Essex, England. “It’s a traditional dish.’’
The depletion of the species has caused the decay and disappearance of hundreds of fishing villages on both sides of the Atlantic.
Overfishing off Canada’s maritime provinces exhausted the world’s richest cod grounds and forced the government to impose a fishing moratorium. The collapse wiped out more than 42,000 jobs, and 18 years later the fish have still not returned. Some Canadian scientists believe the collapse of cod stocks off Newfoundland and Nova Scotia changed the marine ecosystem so dramatically that it may be impossible for cod to recover.