Press Release

North Sea Cod plan: huge step forward for stock recovery, says WWF

WWF, the global environment network, today applauded the proposals for emergency measures to save the North Sea cod agreed in overnight talks in Brussels. 

For the first time in history a new agreement will close a substantial system of zones in the North Sea to all whitefish trawling. The areas ranging from Shetland to the English Channel (see map available from WWF Press Office) will be restricted from February to the end of April. The closures go much further than expected and will not only protect congregating cod during their breeding season but will also prevent cod in the zones from being accidentally netted with other fish.

"This commitment to extensive regeneration areas – critical spawning and breeding zones that are closed to allow fish stocks to recover – is a huge step forward," said Matthew Davis, WWF-UK’s Campaign Director, Oceans.

"However, there is a great deal more to be done. WWF’s Oceans Recovery Campaign continues to call for a pilot scheme of year-round Fishing-Free Zones and investment in industry restructuring for sustainable fishing. In the coming weeks and months we hope to build on our strong partnerships with the fishing industry and press governments to create other regeneration initiatives," added Davis.

WWF says that unless European Union proposals are extended for radical 5-10 year recovery plans – combined with financial support for a sustainable fishing industry - then the long-term forecast remains bleak for fish and coastal communities dependent on fishing. WWF repeated the glaring statistic that two-thirds of all commercial fish stocks in the Northeast Atlantic are currently ‘outside safe biological limits’.

Negotiators threw out an early Commission plan proposing large mesh sizes widely criticised as unworkable – and have accepted a plan pressed for by both the fishing industry and WWF to close spawning and nursery grounds during the cod breeding season.

"These closures are a step forward but are strictly emergency relief. The important lesson from the crisis is that industry, governments and scientists can work together when pushed. What is needed now is to transform such crisis management into strategic, positive management to regenerate and enhance fish stocks across the board to cover all commercial species," said Dr Sarah Jones, WWF Marine and Fisheries Policy Officer. 

Other measures proposed by WWF:

Investment in a sustainable industry

A recent WWF report ‘Choose or Lose’ has highlighted the great potential for the fishing industry to have a sustainable future. What is vital is that support and resources must be made available to the industry to allow for fair and reasonable restructuring, and reinvestment, as stocks recover.

WWF’s report made the opportunity and need for sound investment clear:

  • Published research shows that in some areas fisheries could be over 1,500 per cent more profitable if fish stocks are allowed to recover.
  • Official figures show the UK fishing industry to be worth 622 million in 1997, with many more jobs on land in the supporting and processing industries.
  • It is estimated that every job at sea supports four jobs on land – therefore potentially over 40,000 jobs could be at risk in Scotland alone.

Go to for a copy of the report.

New structures needed

WWF and UK fishermen are pressing for restructuring of the Common Fisheries Policy to enable sustainable management using a range of tools, with fishermen involved in the decision-making process. It is critical to the success of the recovery plan that the fishermen themselves are involved in its development and are able to support its proposals. Recovery measures must include targets and forward plans over the next five or ten years as stocks recover. It is only with this more long-term view that the required management changes considered today, will allow medium-term recovery and a long-term sustainable future for the fish and fishermen.

Fishingowl says progress is been made, the question is "where will the trawlers who can no fish in the closed areas go to?"