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Sustainable fishing – cod’s success story

This year promises a bonanza cod catch in the Barents Sea, thanks largely to Norway’s sustainable fishing practice. The Norwegian Seafood Council plans an extensive campaign to bring more of the delicate white fish to both new and existing markets.

Norway boasts the largest cod stock in the world and is about to reap the efforts of their successful management. Under the bilateral fisheries agreement for 2013 signed in Trondheim last October, Russia and Norway have agreed to a historically high cod quota of 1 million tonnes for the Barents Sea, 33% more than the previous year.


The overall situation on fish stocks in the Barents Sea is the highest combined biomass of ground fish measures in the last 50 years, according to Norway’s Ministry of Fisheries and Coastal Affairs. But it hasn’t always been the case, notes Ove Johansen, Seafood Council market analyst.


“For years, Europeans have been told not to eat the cod because the cod in EU waters has been declining,” says Johansen. “Canada was high, now it is a fraction of what it was. But now quotas in the Barents Sea are larger than they were before the Second World War.”


Sustainable Fishing

Part of cod’s amazing comeback in Norway has been the country’s environmental focus on maintaining a stable population through quotas established by the Norwegian-Russian Fisheries Commission. Norway’s 50-year-long agreement with Russia to jointly manage the significant north-east Arctic cod stock in the Barents Sea is regarded as the most important of the joint stock agreements it has with neighbouring countries.


“It has taken a tremendous amount of effort from Russia and Norway in carefully strengthening the cod stock to make it robust and resilient towards temperature changes, IUU (illegal, unreported and unregulated) fishing, and more,” said Lisbeth Berg-Hansen, Norwegian Minister of Fisheries and Coastal Affairs, in her speech at a sustainability seminar in Sao Paulo, Brazil in November 2012. “The cod quota agreed between Norway and Russia on the Barents Sea Cod is the highest ever – one million tonnes and the prospects are that this positive stock situation will remain in place for many years to come.”


This year’s agreement means Norwegian fishermen will be able to catch approximately 107,000 more cod than 2012, creating more jobs and economic growth for Norway’s coastal communities. The quota is based on scientific advice from the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas, and is split 40:40 between Norway and Russian, with the remaining 20% going to third-party countries Iceland, Greenland, and the Faroese Islands, as well as the European Union.


All Norwegian cod is certified as sustainable according to the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) standards for sustainability and all of the biggest fisheries in Norway are approved by the MSC. The standards include everything from the size of the fish stocks to fishing methods and there are strict requirements for the management of the stocks that are certified.


Marketing Cod Abroad

The good stocks led to more cod being sold abroad last year. However, the country saw an overall fall in export value because of lower cod prices. According to figures from the Seafood Council, the export value of Norwegian cod clip fish in 2012 totalled NOK 2 billion, a decline of NOK 90 million from 2011 after an 11% fall in prices.


Whole salted Norwegian cod fell NOK 197 million to NOK 713 million following declines in its biggest market Portugal. Exports of fresh whole cod rose by 2,388 tonnes to 24,032 tonnes, but not enough to compensate for the fall in price, which reduced exports by NOK 5 million to NOK 537 million.


With even more cod expected this year, the Seafood Council is taking extra measures to market cod abroad. Based on financial contributions from several sources, including the Ministries of Fisheries, the Seafood Council plans to spend an additional NOK 15 million for marketing cod in the first half of 2013 on top of the more than NOK 60 million in previously planned cod marketing efforts.


The additional funds will be targeted towards existing markets so as to get the most immediate effect for the extraordinary catch this season, according to Børge Grønbech, Seafood Council marketing director. “The one million tonne quote this year for cod is a record high,” says Grønbech. “There are concerns (among fishermen) over price, therefore the extra money for marketing cod.”


One way to reach more customers is through increased visibility in stores and TV advertisements in high volume markets like Portugal, which accounts for 60-70% of cod sales. The Portuguese market is noted more for people buying whole pieces of dried and salted cod fish for preparation at home in traditional bacalao. Last year, Portugal was the second largest market for Norwegian export of clip fish at NOK 1.07 billion, just after Brazil with NOK 1.9 billion.


The Seafood Council will focus this year towards increasing sales of fresh cod to big customers such as France, the second largest market for Norwegian seafood after Russia. Maria Grimstad de Perlinghi, Seafood Council marketing director for France, said it plans to spend NOK 9.25 million this year marketing cod to this culinary conscious country, which is very concerned about the quality of the products and their origin.


One way is teaching Frenchmen to use cod in blanquette de veau, a French stew traditionally prepared with veal. The younger crowd, which has become a larger consumer of Norwegian salmon for sushi, could also be a possible market for cod sushi. Norwegian company Codfarmer started marketing a sushi-quality loin called Strøm in 2010 based on its farmed cod.


“France is the largest sushi consumer in Europe,” says de Perlinghi. “There are more sushi bars than McDonalds.”


Photo credits: Jan-Petter Westermann/Norwegian Seafood Council, Per Eide Studio/Norwegian Seafood Council)

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