Andrew Parsons  /  AP file
The global catch of cod declined from 3.42 million tons in 1970 to 1 million tons in 2000.
updated 5/12/2004 8:58:00 PM ET 2004-05-13T00:58:00

The world’s cod stocks could be wiped out by 2020 because of overfishing, illegal catches and oil exploration, the environment group WWF said Thursday.

WWF — the World Wide Fund for Nature — said the world’s largest remaining cod stock, in the Barents Sea, is under particular threat.

In a report, WWF said the world’s cod fisheries are disappearing fast, with a global catch that declined from 3.42 million tons in 1970 to 1 million tons in 2000.

“If such a trend continues, the world’s cod stocks will disappear in 15 years time,” said the group, which is known as the World Wildlife Fund in the United States.

In North America, the catch has declined by 90 per cent since the early 1980s, while in European waters, the catch of North Sea cod is now just 25 per cent of what it was two decades ago.

“Overfishing of cod continues because fisheries policies are driven by short-term economic interests,” said Simon Cripps, head of WWF’s oceans program.

High Barents quotas
The Barents Sea, north of Norway and Russia, is one of the world’s richest fishing grounds, accounting for half the global cod catch. But although numbers there appear healthy, this may not last, said WWF.

High fishing quotas for 2004 are unsustainable, the group maintained. Some 110,000 tons of cod are also believed to be caught there illegally every year, further denting stocks, it said.

“The onus is on Russia and Norway to prevent the Barents Sea cod stock suffering a similar fate as the Canadian cod stock, which collapsed in the 1990s and has not yet recovered,” Cripps said.

WWF also said it believes Barents Sea cod are threatened by expanded shipping and oil exploration plans.

Reopening to exploration
On Tuesday, Norwegian authorities said the potentially oil-rich sea would be reopened for exploration, after a pause to address environmental concerns about protecting the fragile ecosystem in Arctic waters.

Russia, meanwhile, is planning to boost shipping by developing a new export route via its ice-free deep-water port of Murmansk, which would allow supertankers to economically take oil to the U.S. East Coast.

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