ABERDEEN, Scotland, Nov. 15 (UPI) -- Scottish fishermen were angered this week when a British conservation group recommended North Sea cod stay off menus despite a recent comeback by the species.
Bertie Armstrong, chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen's Federation, said Wednesday fisherman have worked hard to renew a stock that was once overfished to the points of extinction, saying his group "unequivocally" opposes the advice of the Marine Stewardship Council, The Scotsman reported.
"We firmly believe that North Sea cod is a sustainable choice for the consumer because the scientific advice indicates that stock levels will continue to rise in future, thanks to the sustainable fishing practices adopted by our fishermen," Armstrong said.
"Our unequivocal message to the consumer is to eat more Scottish fish -- and that includes North Sea cod."
The fishing group said it was "disappointed" the MSC opted to continue listing North Sea cod on its list of fish to avoid for environmental reasons, published on its Fishonline.com website.
Scottish Fishing Secretary Richard Lochhead also weighed in, predicting the species' recovery is well on the way toward "full maximum sustainable yield in the very near future."
Therefore, he said, "the stock recovery is not being harmed and will not be harmed in any way if people eat Scottish-caught North Sea cod."
The conservation charity, however, contends that despite its survey showing a rebound in numbers due to past fishing restrictions, the cold-water species remains threatened by climate change and still needs protection.
MCS chief officer Bernadette Clarke said she acknowledges the fishermen's efforts to conserve cod stocks, saying they have put the cod stocks "on the road to recovery."
The group's government-backed survey of Britain's inshore fishing grounds found in June that cod stocks in the North Sea continued to show a strong recovery and were now close to a level where sustainability could be met.
The recovery in cod stocks was also noted by the International Council of the Exploration of the Sea, which in March found that the breeding stock of North Sea cod continued to expand, with a likely catch of 43,000 tons this year.
"All these projections suggest that the stock will be inside safe biological limits in 2014," the sea council stated.
But, Clarke argued, "Our advice remains to seek alternatives to North Sea cod. There are (other) more sustainable cod fisheries that we currently rate as 'Fish to Eat.'"
Paul de Zylva of Friends of the Earth told The Guardian in June a full recovery of the North Sea cod could in reality take many years, and that the recent bounce-back "does not mean stocks have recovered to high enough levels.
"We're in this near-extinction mess -- and the North Sea cod fisheries were closed -- precisely because industrial commercial fishing has stripped fish stock to the bone. The U.K. used to be self-sufficient in fish for all 12 months of the year. Now we're using our own fish stocks for just six months."