A new briefing, published today by SFP, shows that the world’s whitefish fisheries are on a positive improvement trend but the situation is highly polarized with a few sustainable fisheries producing a lot of fish while the majority are not well managed.

The briefing covers the most recent assessment period for which comparable data is available as of October 2012 and covers 51 principal whitefish fisheries around the world.

The report uses scores from the public database FishSource (www.fishsource.com) to classify the fisheries as Category A (very well managed), Category B (well managed) and Category C (poorly managed). The full report and supporting tables can be viewed here.

In summary, the briefing concludes that for whitefish fisheries:

  • 41.5% of the total volume of whitefish supplied to market comes from fisheries in a very good condition (category A). 88.5% of cod supplied to market is in category A.
  • 37.5% of the total volume of whitefish supplied to market comes from fisheries that are in good shape but would benefit from improvements in management regime (category B). No cod stocks currently fall within category B.
  • 21% of the total volume of whitefish comes from fisheries that have not been effectively managed and significant improvements are required (category C). 11.5% of the cod supplied to market is in category C.
  • A large volume of whitefish comes from fisheries in good condition while the majority of whitefish fisheries are in a poor state. 11 (22%) fisheries fall in category A, 13 (26%) in category B and 27 (52%) in category C. The situation is particularly polarized for the 17 cod fisheries – 4 (24%) are in category A and 13 (76%) in category C.
  • Many of the fisheries that need to improve do not have Fishery Improvement Projects (FIPs) in place – this situation is particularly acute for cod. For the 27 whitefish fisheries that require significant improvements (category C), only 13 have a FIP in place and of these at least 7 are deemed to have made insufficient progress as assessed by SFP. For cod, 13 cod fisheries are in category C and only 3 have FIPs.
  • SFP calculates that if all whitefish fisheries were managed effectively, the likely catch in 2020 could be 6,788,400 tonnes. This would deliver almost a million additional tonnes of whitefish compared to most recent landings. Again, this benefit depends on fishery improvements being implemented in many fisheries.

Commenting on the report, Jim Cannon, CEO of Sustainable Fisheries Partnership, said:

“This report shows that whitefish fisheries are essentially divided into two camps – some are doing very well indeed while others remain in a poor condition. It’s great news that the total volume of sustainably caught whitefish is rising but the industry must not lose sight of the need to deliver fishery improvement projects where they are urgently required. Consumers can certainly eat cod from well-managed fisheries with a clean conscience but should spare a thought for the fisheries that are not doing so well.”

The report suggests that recent improvements may not continue without additional efforts. The last two years of data shows almost no increase in the percentage volume from category A fisheries for both ‘all whitefish’ and cod – this may be evidence that improvements have been achieved in a few high volume fisheries but that there is a hard core of poorly performing fisheries that are proving resistant to change.

SFP is urging commercial buyers of whitefish to take the following actions:

  • Do not source from fisheries where the current spawning stock biomass is below the lower limit reference point and where no credible FIP is in place. Companies that are currently buying from these fisheries should continue to do so but give a clear timetable for withdrawal if improvements are not delivered in a timely fashion.
  • Actively encourage all whitefish fisheries without an improvement project to form such an initiative and begin to make progress in developing better management. This is a particular priority for north west Atlantic cod fisheries.
  • Encourage those whitefish fisheries that already have FIPs to ensure that the momentum of improvement continues and that progress does not stall. This is a particular priority for South American fisheries.
  • Encourage those fisheries that have MSC certifications with outstanding conditions to fulfill those conditions as soon as possible.
  • Encourage fisheries to adopt elements of ecosystem based fisheries management.