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Barents Sea cod stocks on comeback trail, Frionor director Leiv Birkeland tells industry.

Barents Sea Cod Stocks on Comeback Trail, Frionor Director Leiv Birkeland Tells Industry

Forget about the cod shortage; within a few years, the Norwegian quota will be 250,000 tons -- and by the end of the decade, it should reach 350,000, according to Leiv Birkeland, director of Frionor A/S.

Why are cod stocks rebounding? Water temperatures are higher, supplies of capelin and herring (eaten by both cod and seals) are strong, seal stocks are normal, fishing efforts have slackened and individual fish in recent catches average larger.

Cod are part of an ecology that also includes capelin and seals, Birkeland explained. When cod proliferated in the early 1980s, they fed on capelin and helped deplete that resource (capelin fishing had to be suspended from 1986 to 1990). Seals, which normally feed on capelin too, turned to saithe and cod -- gulping down 75,000 and 42,000 tons, respectively, in 1987.

Seals don't know from weight limitations -- they went after the smaller fish: nearly 80% of the 470 million cod they ate were small two year olds; of the 330 million saithe they consumed, half were two-year-olds and half one-year-olds. The classes of 1985, '86, and '87 were pretty much wiped out before they could reach fishable size, and stocks available for fishing plummeted.

Everything's Changed

But everything has changed now, Birkeland said.

Water temperature was exceptionally high in 1990, rich spawning of cod took place in 1990 and was even better in '91; more good year classes can be expected. The fish has plenty to eat and grows fast. High weight of the liver indicates that the cod is feeling fine. The cod's death rate, due to cannibalism and predators like the seal, is low. This also applies to fishing efforts, which have been falling since 1988 and were extremely low in 1990.

Biomass of three-year-old cod, which hit a low point of 146,000 tons in 1990, rebounded to 184,000 last year and is expected -- by conservative estimate -- to reach 240,000 tons this year and 365,000 next year. Total biomass of cod three years old and older, believed to have hit a low point of 700,000 tons in 1988, has increased steadily since then to 800,000 in 1989, one million in 1990 and 1.1 million last year; it is expected to hit 1.4 million this year.

With the increase in biomass, and the projected rise in both total allowable catch and Norwegian quota, tonnage available for freezing will increase. Half the cod caught from 1984-87 was frozen, but only 29% of last year's diminished tonnage was frozen -- 50% was salted instead, Birkeland estimated, because most of the landings represented larger (Class of 1983) fish caught in the traditional salting and hanging area near the Lofoten islands, and during weather favorable to salting and hanging.

Last year's Norwegian quota was a paltry 128,500 tons, compared to Birkeland's 1990 prediction of 140,000; but the actual catch was estimated to have been 160,000. He predicted 1991's quota will match last year's catch, and that the quotas will increase to 174,000 in 1992, 190,000 in 1993, 215,000 in 1995 and 250,000 in 1996. The portion available for freezing, 46,000 in 1990, will increase at an even faster rate, from 53,000 in 1991 to 61,000 this year, 72,000 in 1994, 90,000 in 1995 and 118,000 in 1996 -- the percentage of cod frozen will be back to 47% in 1996.

Birkeland also forecast that the saithe quota this year will be 105,000 tons, the same as in 1990, after dipping to 96,000 last year. And the haddock quota, which hovered at a mere 12,000 tons (really a by-catch) for the last two years, will more than quadruple this year to 50,000. Within another few years, the haddock quota should reach 100,000 tons, he added, while the saithe catch could increase to 150,000. [Graphs Omitted]
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Publication:Quick Frozen Foods International
Date:Jan 1, 1992
Words:667
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