Conservationists have taken North Sea cod off a red list of species to avoid eating, as the ailing fishery begins to show signs of recovery.
The fishery, which collapsed in the 1980s as a result of overfishing, has risen above dangerously low levels for the first time after years of reduced fishing and efforts to avoid catching cod in mixed fisheries, the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) said.
The MCS assesses seafood on a traffic light system and a one-to-five rating, where one is the most sustainable. The signs of improvement have led it to raise North Sea cod to an “amber” rating and a level 4 recommendation, meaning it should be eaten only very occasionally.
But the conservation group warned cod may never return to its pre-collapse glory days and more effort was needed to boost its populations to healthy levels.
MCS fisheries officer Samuel Stone said: “It’s fantastic to see this fishery finally off the red list. Years of sacrifice and a lot of hard work have led to population increases above dangerously low levels.
“Whilst this is certainly a milestone for North Sea cod, the job is not done yet.
“Efforts of recent years need to continue in order of for the fishery to head towards the green end of the spectrum.”
He said cod numbers needed to rise and catches should be further reduced to levels where they are being fished without depleting the population, with all cod stocks in the UK still being fished above that level.
Decades of overfishing, which reduced populations and the size and age of cod, along with the warming of the region’s seas, have cut the reproductive success of the cod in the North Sea.
With the seas continuing to warm, the slower and lower the recovery may be, the MCS said.
There is also bad news for nine other, smaller cod fisheries in the north-east Atlantic which remain red-listed by the MCS, including those fished from the Irish Sea, Celtic Sea and West of Scotland.
From being widely caught and landed in UK ports, cod is now the country’s most imported species, with most coming from the north-east Arctic and Iceland, where fisheries are doing well, but some fish from depleted fisheries are finding their way into products.