Is there a cod?

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Feature story - 15 April, 2003
The cod stocks in the Barents sea are disappearing. The stocks are showing the same tendencies as the Newfoundland cod stocks just before they collapsed. The Greenpeace ship Espereanza is now patrolling in the Barents sea north of Norway to investigate and confront large fishing trawlers in this rich but sensitive ocean.

Activists from the Greenpeace ship Esperanza climbing on board the Russian factory fishing trawler

For the last six years the Norwegian-Russian fisheries commission has ignored advice from marine scientists and approved much higher cod quotas. Adding to the problem, the trawlers in the Barents sea catch large quantities of cod that have not yet reproduced. The cod stock is now below healthy limits.

We recently caught up with a Russian factory trawler. With the invaluable help from the Russian-speaking guys on board the Esperanza, Slava and Viktor, the captain of the "Patrakeevka" gave us permission to go on board his factory trawler.

It was a bit surprising that he thought trawl free zones was a great idea, since he had just been trawling in the most important one of them.

On the evening of April 13th we contacted another Russian trawler. Our request to go on board the vessel and hand over a letter explaining which areas we want protected from fishing was denied.

The production of cod in the Barents is affected by natural variations in temperature, ocean currents, wind and light conditions. These variations may have serious impacts on the fish stocks, especially on the larva and the young fish and their prey, therefore affecting their reproduction rate. If a period of unfavourable natural conditions occurs at the same time as a continued high pressure on the stock and overfishing on young fish, there is a great risk of a collapse.

After 1998 the spawning stock has been below the scientists' minimum demand for a precautionary management. The cod are also becoming reproductive at an earlier age, this was observed in the Newfoundland cod stocks just before they collapsed.

The United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organisation estimates that 75 percent of the world's fish stocks are fully exploited, over exploited or in crisis. The cod in the Barents sea is, according to the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, outside safe biological limits. The main contributor to the problem is the large off-shore trawlers taking fish that has not reproduced.

We want the Norwegian government to establish permanent no-trawl zones to protect the cod stocks.

Unless pressure is put on the Norwegian government overfishing with trawlers will continue.

You can follow the progress of the Esperanza in the Barents sea on the with daily updates from the crew.

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