Brussels — Cod is slipping closer to disappearing from key European fishing grounds, officials warned Friday, saying that only steep catch cuts will prevent the disappearance of a species prized for centuries for its flaky white flesh.
The European Union’s executive body called for sharp cuts in the amount of cod fisherman can catch next year — up to 25 percent in some areas. The European Commission said recent studies showed cod catches in some areas are far outstripping the rate of reproduction.
Scientists estimated that in the 1970s there were more than 250,000 tons of cod in fishing grounds in the North Sea, eastern English Channel and Scandinavia’s Skagerrak strait. In recent years, however, stocks have dropped to 50,000 tons.
“We are not that far away from a situation of complete collapse,” said Jose Rodriguez, a marine biologist with the environmental group Oceana. He and other environmentalists said pressure from the fishing industry had kept quotas at levels too high to sustain a viable populations around Europe, while lack of enforcement meant illegal fishing made the problem worse.