cod fish

A resurgence in North Sea cod stocks should help the UK reduce its reliance on Norwegian imports, which have seen prices soar in recent months due to tightening supplies.

UK cod prices typically trade at a premium to Norwegian, with prices currently up 17% year on year at £2.92/kg. However, with declining catches in Norway, the outlook for 2018 looks very different.

Over a decade after North Sea cod stocks fell to a record low of 44,000 tonnes, the Marine Stewardship Council last month announced stocks had recovered sufficiently to achieve certification as sustainable.

Sustainable fishing practices implemented in the North Sea have finally paid off, with cod stocks now up to just over 167,000 tonnes. As a result, the European Commission’s provisional Total Allowable Catch for 2018 is due to rise by 50% on this year’s levels to 50,000 tonnes. It was as low as 10,000 tonnes as recently as 2012.

MSC certification should make North Sea cod more attractive for UK consumers, with Waitrose the first retailer to stock MSC North Sea cod last month after an 18-year hiatus.

Prices of cod from Norway, the largest supplier to the UK, rose 10% year on year to £1.64/kg in July, caused by tightening supplies and strong demand across the EU. Price pressure looks set to continue into next year as the Norwegian cod Total Allowable Catch for the Barents Sea - its major cod fishing area shared with Russia - has been provisionally set at 20% lower in 2018 at 712,000 tonnes.

The new sustainability qualification for North Sea cod is a great example of how well managed fishery systems can recover. This means the UK can enjoy fish & chips knowing it can be locally sourced from a sustainable market.

Verity Michie is an analyst for Mintec