TV celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has admitted that North Sea cod stocks appear to be rising towards healthy levels.
The chef made the remark following a fact-finding trip on Peterhead trawler Budding Rose after skipper, Peter Bruce, invited him aboard to see for himself the state of stocks.
The star of TV’s River Cottage had agreed to spend two days aboard the trawler after Mr Bruce launched an online campaign to counter claims he had made in his TV series ‘Hugh’s Fish Fight’.
Following his trip in theNorth Sea, Mr Fearnley-Whittingstall said that while it was obvious that cod stocks were on the increase, he had not made a U-turn on his views.
He said that the latest scientific evidence had shown that cod stocks were below what they ought to be - but they were rising.
And he hoped that the next set of statisticswould reveal that the species was getting close, if not getting into, safe levels for spawing mass.
He said they could only then feel confident that stocks of Cod were starting to stabilise.
Mr Fearnley-Whittingstall was invited aboard the trawler following a war of words online between himself and North-east fishermen.
A Facebook page set up by local skippers aimed at scotching claims has received thousands of ‘likes’ since its inception.
The pressure group The Real Fish Fight was set up by Skipper Bruce along with fellow skippers who claim there are plenty fish in the sea.
Skipper Bruce said the Real Fish Fight had been launched to convince people that North Sea stocks were not dwindling and that latest catches were proof of that.
And he said that the stocks’ recovery was down to conservation efforts implemented by Scottish fishermen.
The Scottish Fishermen’s Federation backed the claims, stating: “ Reports from Scottish fishermen of a huge abundance of cod in the North Sea is a direct result of a dramatic decline in fishing effort combined with the introduction of a number of conservation initiatives by the fishing fleet.
“The scientific evidence is also backing the experience of fishermen on the fishing grounds.
“According to Scottish Sea Fisheries Statistics, the amount of fishing effort by the Scottish fleet has declined by a massive 70% between 2000 and 2011.
SFF chief executive, Bertie Armstrong, said at the time: “The important step now is to ensure that fishermen are rewarded for this increasing stock of cod and other fish through enhanced catching opportunities in the future. Survival of the fishing communities will depend on this.
“However, this must be achieved through careful fisheries management based on the science so as to ensure the continuation of sustainable harvesting that enables the stock to prosper.”
Mr Fearnley-Whittingstall embarked on his two-day trip last Wednesday morning from Lerwick.
The trip on board the Budding Rose was filmed for the next series of Hugh’s Fish Fight which is due to be screened later this year.