Cod (Gadus morhua) and haddock (Melanogrammus aeglefinus) are two of Europe’s iconic species and command a large market share in both the retail and foodservice sectors, and both have shown significant growth due to efforts by the industry to make change, efforts supported and guided by SFP in one significant fishery in northern Europe.

The Barents Sea, located between Russia and Norway, is a significant source of supply for both species. According to the EU Fish Processors and Traders Association (AIPCE-CEP), Barents Sea cod is the largest global cod fishery. Fleets from several countries work in these fisheries—vessels from the Faroe Islands, France, Germany, Norway, Russia, and the UK fish for cod and haddock, while Spain holds quota for cod. Both species are caught using seine nets, trawls, gillnets, longlines, and hooks and lines.

The Barents Sea fisheries were among the first SFP tackled at the request of the market, given the fisheries’ significance there. In 2006, SFP identified a number of common issues to be addressed, including illegal landings pushing the total harvest over quota by 35 percent; shortcomings in monitoring, control, surveillance, and enforcement; loopholes in catch documentation; and reporting failures by importing nations. There were also concerns about the level of fishing of bycatch species.

Following an SFP-initiated roundtable, major branded suppliers and global fast food trade buyers, together with other interested stakeholders, set up a fishery improvement project (FIP). SFP agreed to assist with the scoping and initiation phases of the project, then stepped back to provide ongoing technical and analytical advice to the market.

FIP participants aimed to get the fisheries back into a healthier state by supporting total allowable catch limits (TACs) set in line with scientific advice and an agreed management plan, pushing for a reduction in the environmental footprint of the bottom trawl fishery and tracking and monitoring levels of illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing. For all fisheries, the short-term goal was Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification.

According to Doug Beveridge, who leads improvement efforts at SFP, the FIP was market driven with little initial participation by the catching sector. “Their aims were simple; the Barents Sea was a major source of supply, but increasingly the supply chain found they could no longer purchase from there and meet customers’ sustainability requirements, as the stocks were heavily associated with IUU fishing. By taking control, they were able to reverse this process and secure valuable seafood supplies for the future,” he said.

The FIP proved to be the catalyst for a number of supplier- and country-led projects, all working toward the sustainability of the fisheries. Initially, the seafood-purchasing companies and the governments of Norway, Russia, and the EU took steps to remedy weaknesses in post-harvest tracking of the catch, including virtual elimination of reefer vessels flying flags of convenience. They also committed to importing products only through reporting ports and to verifying their products’ legality before buying. An agreement by the Joint Russian-Norwegian Fisheries Commission allowed for joint inspections to take place and removed distrust between the two countries.

A new comprehensive control documentation scheme (CDS) for the Barents Sea assisted these actions in 2007. The AIPCE-CEP developed the CDS in consultation with DG Fish (the EU authority) and DEFRA (the UK authority). The CDS covered goods delivery, fishing and transport vessels, port registration, control procedures for importers, purchase of finished product, and common chain-of-custody methodology. The CDS was so successful that the measures it contained were largely reflected in the recent EU IUU Regulation, which acts to prevent IUU product entering the market.

FIP stakeholders’ efforts to improve fisheries in the Barents Sea have resulted in healthy cod and haddock stocks, with biomass well above target levels and a significant reduction in illegal fishing. With cod, spawning stock biomass (SSB) hit 1,246,840 tonnes in 2010, the year the fishery achieved MSC certification. According to historical data, the biomass hadn’t been that high since the end of World War II. Click here to see a page in SFP’s FishSource database discussing the fishery’s history, complete with a graph that shows the improvement. For haddock, the results are equally encouraging: in 2010, SSB stood at 362,940 tonnes, higher than had been recorded in the previous 60 years. Click here to see the FishSource report on Barents Sea haddock.

The Barents Sea Cod and Haddock FIP clearly had a positive impact, as the MSC subsequently certified six units as sustainable and well-managed fisheries: Norway North East Arctic cod; Norway North East Arctic haddock; Barents Sea cod and Barents Sea haddock; Comapêche and Euronor cod and haddock; Faroe Islands Northeast Arctic cod and haddock; and UK Fisheries Ltd/DFFU/Doggerbank North East Arctic cod, haddock, and saithe.