Daily Telegraph estimate on cod is off by half a billion, more or less
September 29, 2012 -- The Daily Telegraph recently ran the headline: "Just 100 cod left in the North Sea". It sounded fishy. Trawlermen were furious.
"It just makes my blood boil - 100 cod in the North Sea?" fumes Brian Buchan, who's been fishing in the North Sea for more than 30 years. "More like 100 million cod in the North Sea."
It's not a trivial issue. Over-exploitation and conflicts over fisheries cause major problems worldwide.
The story was picked up by other media, including the Atlantic Wire and Canada's Globe and Mail, but it started in the The Sunday Times which reported there were "100 adult cod in North Sea". A different claim - but still wildly wrong.
The Sunday Times chose to class an adult cod as aged over 13. But that's not merely an adult cod. It's an ancient cod.
"Cod start to mature at ages one and two and they're fully mature by six," says Dr Carl O'Brien, the UK's chief fisheries science adviser.
So we shouldn't be surprised that there are very few cod aged over 13 (in fact fewer than 60 have been recorded in the North Sea in past 30 years) just as we shouldn't be surprised there aren't very many humans over 100.
Given what we know about when cod mature, just how many "adult" cod are there in the North Sea? Remember, the Sunday Times said there were just 100. The right answer? Well, using the same dataset, the right answer appears to be rather more than 100 - 21 million, in fact.
A spokesperson for the Sunday Times told the BBC: "The headline and the first sentence of the article over-simplified a complicated issue, which we regret. However, the rest of the story made clear that we were referring to cod over the age of 13 and the figures cited were accurate."
And what of that other headline - "Just 100 cod left in the North Sea"? Looking at the data, it seems a more accurate headline would read "Just 436,900,000 cod left in the North Sea". Wrong by about half a billion, then, which is perhaps a new record for the most inaccurate headline ever covered by More or Less.
Read the full story at the BBC