Cod taken off the shelves at Asda to preserve stocks

A A A

Asda, Britain's second biggest supermarket, is removing North Sea cod from its shelves in response to the dramatic collapse of natural fish stocks.

In a sign of how overfishing has devastated the once-plentiful cod off Britain's coast, the supermarket said that it would suspend sale of North Sea cod by July. It said the move had been influenced by attacks from environmentalists for its sale of endangered fish such as cod, which is heading towards commercial extinction in the waters off Britain.

Greenpeace demonstrators scaled the roof of Asda's Leeds headquarters in January and unfurled a banner that read: "Will stocks last?" while the Marine Conservation Society ranked the store bottom for sustainable fish sales. In a self-declared conversion to environmentalism that includes selling sustainable hardwood and raising prices to dairy farmers, Asda said that as well as suspending North Sea cod, it would cease the sale of swordfish, which is also endangered.

The chain said that it intended to follow its parent company Walmart within five years by selling only fish certified by the Marine Stewardship Council, the London body which checks global fisheries for sustainability and legality. The move could make Asda among the most ethical supermarkets for fish - a distinction currently held by Marks & Spencer and Waitrose.

But Asda went one step further by suggesting that the whole of the North Sea should be turned into a marine conservation zone with commercial fishing limited to local boats to protect it from overfishing.

Green groups welcomed the supermarket's commitment, which they said highlighted how the ravaging of the seas was rising up the agenda of UK shopkeepers and consumers, who spend £1.8bn a year on fish. Overfishing has decimated stocks of cod, skate, monkfish, hake any many other species, resulting in the estimated loss of 90 per cent of the world's big fish such as tuna, swordfish and marlin.

Cod's global decline has been particularly stark. Stocks off Newfoundland, Canada, collapsed in the early 1990s and have not recovered, in a grim portent of what night happen in the North Sea. Historically, cod have teemed off British shores - fishermen from Scotland and the east of England were helping to land 300,000 tons a year in the 1970s and 1980s. But, for the past four years, the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas - the scientific body which advises the EU on its common fisheries policy - has urged all cod fishing in the North Sea to stop.

Politicians in the European Commission have repeatedly ignored the advice and, this year, set a catch of about 23,000 tons - almost half of the remaining stock.

Blake Lee-Harwood, Greenpeace's campaign director, said Asda's move highlighted how store chains were rapidly "delisting" endangered species.

"It's one of those issues whose time has come and I think supermarkets have been looking at themselves and have thought: 'We can't really justify selling the last cod in the North Sea.'"

He believed consumers still had little idea just how overfishing has harmed stocks - 75 per cent are over-exploited. He said: "People think [the sea] is so vast we cannot possibly catch all the fish. If you have any experience of the fishing industry, you realise it is only too possible."

Bryce Beukers-Stewart, fisheries policy officer at the Marine Conservation Society, said: "The warnings about overfishing have been going on for years and suddenly supermarkets are reacting.There's a lot of competition between supermarkets: as soon as you perceive that selling sustainable fish is beneficial, everyone jumps aboard."

Fish to avoid

* Atlantic Cod: overfished. Eat well-managed Icelandic cod.

* Monkfish: over-exploited, long-lived

* Marlin: predator plays an important role in marine eco-system. Over-fished.

* Seabass: avoid trawl fisheries that kill dolphins. Choose line-caught seabass

* Skates and rays: endangered, slow to mature

Fish to eat

* Herring: plentiful in North Sea. Contains Omega 3

* Salmon: organic farmed better for the environment

* Hoki: New Zealand white fish. Treat like cod

* Red Gurnard: fast growing and liked by chefs

* Alaskan Pollock: sustainably fished

Source: Marine Conservation Society

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Direct Sales Consultants - OTE £65,000 - £100,000

£65000 - £100000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This national direct sales com...

Ashdown Group: Management Accountant - North West London, £35-40k

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Management Accountant (ACCA / CIMA, ...

Recruitment Genius: Female Care Team

£11 - £12 per hour: Recruitment Genius: A 10 year old girl who has profound an...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - Manchester - Urgent Requirement!

£30000 - £35000 per annum + 20 days holidays & pension: Ashdown Group: Marketi...

Day In a Page

Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness
Homeless Veterans appeal: Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story

Homeless Veterans appeal

Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story
Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

Front National family feud?

Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
Pot of gold: tasting the world’s most expensive tea

Pot of gold

Tasting the world’s most expensive tea
10 best wildlife-watching experiences: From hen harriers to porpoises

From hen harriers to porpoises: 10 best wildlife-watching experiences

While many of Britain's birds have flown south for the winter, it's still a great time to get outside for a spot of twitching
Nick Easter: 'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

Nick Easter targeting World Cup place after England recall
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore