The Atlantic cod:

Living proof that conservation works

Scientists say the fish threatened with extinction is back on the menu again


North Sea cod, once on the brink as a result of decades of over-fishing, has now recovered to an extent that the public should start eating it again with enthusiasm, one of the world's biggest wildlife charities has said.

In a rare wildlife conservation success story, the charity WWF said the fish renowned for its flaky white chunks was being caught sustainably off the shallow cold waters of north and eastern Britain for the first time in a decade. Stocks of the fish have risen by 52 per cent from their historic low four years ago because of a combination of cuts in landing quotas, and conservation techniques which have reduced the number tossed back dead into the sea.

As a result, the EU has increased the British quota for North Sea cod by 16 per cent this year, from 11,216 tonnes to 13,000. Although stocks are still low by historic standards, the recovery could prompt British supermarkets to start stocking North Sea cod again. Most cod in grocery chains and fish and chip shops at present comes from Iceland and the Barents Sea.

Marine scientists said the recovery was evident and welcome, but cautioned the fish was present at only a fraction of its natural level. In a study published in the journal Nature earlier this month, a team from York University estimated that, in 1889, Britain's fishing fleet was landing twice as much fish as today. Stocks of cod fished by English and Welsh boats have declined by 86 per cent in the past 100 years.

Worldwide fish stocks are falling as ever more rapacious and technologically-advanced fleets chase diminishing shoals. Many naturalists have viewed North Sea cod as symbolic of that over-fishing. A few decades ago, cod was a cheap and plentiful, and vast numbers of British boats set to sea to catch it in the 1960s and 1970s.

As a result, the population collapsed and the spawning bio-mass (adult fish old enough to reproduce) sank from 250,000 tonnes in 1970 to a low of 35,700 tonnes four years ago. Environmentalists feared North Sea cod would go the way of Newfoundland cod, which has not recovered from a collapse 20 years ago.

EU fisheries ministers in Brussels successively cut annual quotas. At the same time, Scottish fishermen, who saw the fleet's devastation, began to take conservation more seriously. Twenty-two of Scotland's 122 whitefish boats allowed monitoring cameras on board to prevent them throwing valuable smaller fish overboard, increased mesh size to avoid catching juveniles and fitted panels to allow cod to escape when they were fishing for other species.

North Sea cod has risen from 37,400 tonnes in 2007 to 54,250 tonnes this year. The International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, which advises the EU, estimates the amount required for a recovery is between 70,000 and 150,000 tonnes.

The marine biologist Callum Roberts, at the University of York, said: "Signs of improvement of North Sea cod stocks are encouraging. The sort of measures that they are undertaking in Scotland are good developments."

He added: "Although the trend is in the right direction, it's definitely too early to celebrate. That 150,000-tonne target does not really reflect the historic abundance of the population."

The Marine Conservation Society said it was maintaining its advice not to eat North Sea cod. A fisheries policies officer, Melissa Pritchard, said: "Everyone is doing everything they can and we commend that, but, with fish stocks, it takes years to recover."

Bertie Armstrong, the chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen's Federation, was elated by WWF's public endorsement. He said fishermen had learned their mistakes from the boom days of the 1970s. "We were all mesmerised by the quantities available and regrettably what happened is that nations and individual businesses increased the size of the fleet."

Tam Harcus, skipper of the Russa Taign on Orkney, said: "We have not seen so much cod in the grounds for 20 years. I tend to think it comes in cycles, but [20 years ago] there were a lot of boats catching a lot of cod. There's a lot less boats now – a fraction of the fleet. I don't think there's a fisherman who thinks we can keep fishing and fishing."

Cooking with cod: Recipes by Mark Hix

Poached cod with pea shoots, cucumber and wild garlic

Serves 4

4 portions of cod weighing about 180-200g, boned and scaled

200g pea shoots

50g wild garlic

60-70g butter

For the oil infusion:

200-250ml rapeseed oil or enough to cover

10 black peppercorns

1tsp fennel seeds

A couple of sprigs of thyme

Cucumber and wild fennel dressing

50g finely diced shallots

75ml cider vinegar

300g cucumber, cut in half lengthways, de-seeded, 30mm dice

2 tbsp chopped fennel tops

150ml rapeseed oil

Pinch sea salt

Put the shallots and cider vinegar in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer for 2 mins then remove from the heat.

Add the diced cucumber and fennel tops, followed by the rapeseed oil, and season to taste.

Put all the ingredients for the oil infusion into a wide saucepan large enough for the cod fillets. Add a couple of teaspoons of salt and heat to about 65C, then turn off the heat and leave to infuse for about half an hour.

Place the cod into the infused oil and heat it back up to 65C. Then turn the heat off and leave the fish in for a couple of minutes; remove with a slotted spoon. Cooking times will vary depending on the thickness of the fish but it's important to keep it pink.

Melt the butter in a frying pan until it foams, then add the peashoots and wild garlic; remove from the heat and season.

To serve, arrange the wilted greens in the centre of serving plates. Place the cod on top and spoon over and around the cucumber and fennel dressing.

Fillet of cod with samphire and cockles

Serves 4

Fresh cockles are not used very often, probably because of those seaside memories of eating them mixed with vinegar and sand from polystyrene containers. If you can find live cockles (clams or mussels will do), wash them well to remove any sand by keeping them under cold running water for about an hour, giving them an occasional stir.

4 x 200g cod portions from a large fish, boned and skinned

200-250g cockles or clams, washed

100g samphire, prepared and washed

50ml white wine

175g unsalted butter, diced

Vegetable oil for cooking

Lightly season the cod with salt and pepper. Heat a little oil in a large non-stick pan and fry the cod fillets for about 3 minutes on each side, until they are nicely coloured (if the fillets are very thick you will need to finish them in a hot oven for another 5 to 10 minutes). Meanwhile, give the cockles a final rinse and put them into a large pan with the white wine. Cover with a tight-fitting lid and cook over a high heat until they begin to open, shaking the pan and giving them an occasional stir. Drain the cockles in a colander, reserving the liquid and pouring it back into the pan. Add the samphire and butter to the pan and keep stirring until the butter has melted. Return the cockles to the pan (they will not need seasoning as the samphire will do that) and stir well.

To serve, carefully take the cod from the pan with a fish slice and spoon the clams, samphire and butter over the top.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford attends Blade Runner at Target Presents AFI's Night at the Movies at ArcLight Cinemas on 24 April, 2013 in Hollywood, California
film... but Ridley Scott won't direct
Hughes is hit by a bouncer from Sean Abbott
cricketStephen Brenkley on batsman's tragic flaw that led to critical injury
Dejected England players applaud the fans following their team's 3-0 defeat


Actress isn't a fan of Ed Miliband

Life and Style
Stefan Gates with some mince flies
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Rooney Mara plays a white Tiger Lily in forthcoming film Pan
filmFirst look at Rooney Mara in Pan
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

h2 Recruit Ltd: Graduate Consultant - Sales Recruitment - £35k ote

£18000 - £25000 per annum + £35k ote: h2 Recruit Ltd: Looking for your first s...

Recruitment Genius: Advertising Media Sales - Print, Online & Mobile

£19000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This publishing house has been ...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Business Development Manager - HRO - £70k+ ote

£35000 - £450000 per annum + £3k car, £70k ote: h2 Recruit Ltd: Do you want to...

Recruitment Genius: IT Assessor

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Operating throughout London and...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

24-Hour party person

Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

A taste for rebellion

US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

Colouring books for adults

How the French are going crazy for Crayolas
Jack Thorne's play 'Hope': What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

Playwright Jack Thorne's latest work 'Hope' poses the question to audiences
Ed Harcourt on Romeo Beckham and life as a court composer at Burberry

Call me Ed Mozart

Paloma Faith, Lana del Ray... Romeo Beckham. Ed Harcourt has proved that he can write for them all. But it took a personal crisis to turn him from indie star to writer-for-hire
10 best stocking fillers for foodies

Festive treats: 10 best stocking fillers for foodies

From boozy milk to wasabi, give the food-lover in your life some extra-special, unusual treats to wake up to on Christmas morning
Phil Hughes head injury: He had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Phil Hughes had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Prolific opener had world at his feet until Harmison and Flintoff bounced him
'I have an age of attraction that starts as low as four': How do you deal with a paedophile who has never committed a crime?

'I am a paedophile'

Is our approach to sex offenders helping to create more victims?
How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

From a lost deposit to victory

Green Party on the march in Bristol
Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

Winter blunderlands

Putting the grot into grotto
'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital