Cut catches or face disaster for cod stocks

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On Thursday the World Wildlife Fund published a new report called "Now or Never". It looks at the commercial collapse of Canada's cod industry eight years ago and the disturbing parallels with our own which, the WWF says, is also on the brink of disaster. It's there for all to read at Click on United Kingdom and then ''North Sea cod on verge of collapse'' and it will take you to the report. The full version is 49 pages long, but there's an executive summary that is a more manageable eight pages.

There's a good colour diagram – I do like those on lengthy documents – that gives you a quick idea of the similarities. In the mid-Eighties the Canadian Government was warned of the state of things. Various reports were published offering solutions to the problem but they were dismissed as being too costly and then in 1992, there were no cod left to catch. Our Government too was warned, way back in 1990 and things seem to be taking a spookily similar (if thank goodness not so quick) turn of events, warnings from experts followed by reports followed by rejections on grounds of money followed by...

The ramifications of the collapse of the Canadian commercial cod industry were huge. If you don't spend money on preserving fish stocks you soon don't have any and the economy (and the community, remember that?) suffers. In the last 35 years our cod catches have fallen by 55 per cent, impacting on the value of the fish by 77 per cent – a decline of 684 million notes with Her Majesty's head on.

Governments the world over are fantastically myopic, fond of the sticking plaster approach, never keen to invest in proper long-term physiotherapy. If fish were oil and more immediately important to the economy, then things would be different.

It's not just cod of course, great strain is now being put on other white fish such as plaice and haddock as the industry (and consumers, God bless them) tries to find cod alternatives. But that's as much as I can bear to write on the subject for now because it's too depressing, on top of already depressing general news, and it's going to take hours of classic movies to make the world seem a better place.

But let me just say that, how ironic it is that, 11 days before the WWF's report, Bird's Eye issued a press release to clarify the position following ''various newspaper articles'' that said the company's cod fish fingers were not going to be made of cod anymore to preserve fish stocks. When I first heard this news, which later proved to be incorrect, I leapt with joy. Even though the cynic in me thought that, most probably, BE had stopped using cod because it had become so expensive.

However, cod fish fingers will still be made of cod although BE will "progressively use alternative species in other products (to) ensure that we can protect the predicted limited supply of cod for use in our Cod Fish Fingers." I guess it's a start and BE's parent company Wall's co-founded the Marine Stewardship Council with the WWF, the aim of which is to encourage sustainable fishing.

Now then, other news, as they say. This time from readers abroad. Tim from New Zealand wrote in reply to my column on waders to say that since moving to NZ he's been able to go wet-wading. Which basically involves getting wet and "a pair of rubber hiking boots, a pair of gravel guards and some shorts made of quick-drying material and Bob's your uncle (or possibly aunty on a very cold day)".

I asked Tim if he had ever gone under water to look at the fish in the river, something I've always wanted to do but can't in proper waders or else they'd just fill up with water. He told me he hadn't but that "officers of Fish and Game, who manage the freshwater fishery in NZ, do what they call drift dives – drifting down the river with scuba gear to estimate fish populations. There are 400 takeable fish per kilometre in the Upper Clutha." Glad to hear there are fish somewhere.

Finally, Steve from Tennessee, who has the wonderful title of "immediate past-president of the Clinch River Chapter of Trout Unlimited", suggested I try for women's waders. I already have mine now, but perhaps my increasingly transatlantic readers may find this information useful.