Norway on Thursday rejected claims by the environmental group WWF that overfishing in northern Europe's Barents Sea could wipe out cod stocks within 15 years, saying its quotas comply with international recommendations.
"From the Norwegian point of view, we vehemently reject the notion that we overfish," Johan Williams of the Norwegian Fisheries Ministry told AFP.
"Cod stocks in the Barents Sea are above sustainable levels," he said.
In a report published on Thursday, WWF said global stocks of cod had fallen by more than 70 percent in three decades and overfishing, illegal fishing and industrial development could wipe out the fish entirely within 15 years
'Cod stocks in the Barents Sea are above sustainable levels'
The WWF said that the warning was based on the decline in global catches, which fell from 3.1 million tonnes in 1970 to 950 000 tonnes in 2000.
The Barents Sea has the largest cod stocks in the world, and the WWF pointed the finger specifically at bordering countries Norway and Russia.
According to the study, Norway's quotas for 2004 were 100 000 tonnes higher than recommendations from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES).
Norway admitted that its quota exceeded the recommended level but said that was a result of a different calculation method --Norway and Russia recently adopted a three-year plan to manage stocks to prevent large differences from year to year, while ICES still bases its recommendations on an annual level.
According to estimates from the Norwegian Institute on Sea Research, Norway's catches comply with ICES' recommendations when the calculation is averaged out on an annual basis.
"Cod is not endangered. We understand WWF's concern based on what happened in Canada, the North Sea and the Baltic Sea," where cod has virtually disappeared due to overfishing, a member of the Norwegian institute, Aasmund Bjordal, told AFP.
"They're sounding a warning bell so that that doesn't happen again in the Barents Sea," he said, adding that the three-year plan was intended to prevent such a scenario.
ICES is expected to issue a comment on the Norwegian-Russian calculation method in the near future. -