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Published - 06/06/2011

Mackerel, for sale in WeymouthMCS says row risks long term future of mackerel fishery

MCS is keen to see a swift and reasonable solution to the current situation in the North-East Atlantic which has resulted in a deadlock over mackerel quotas. 

Following a  visit to North East Scotland in April, where most of the UK Pelagic fleet are based, MCS and other environmental NGOs have attended a briefing  from Ian Gatt, Chief Executive of the Scottish Pelagic Fishermen's Association, and were able to question him about what  has turned into  a complex political and fisheries situation.

According to Mr Gatt,  both Iceland and the Faroes have unilaterally increased their mackerel quotas outside of the  current agreement for managing the stock. Both countries believe that they should be entitled to a greater proportion of the catch due to the  apparent movement of the mackerel stocks. Other countries,  with an interest and existing long-term management agreements in the fishery,  dispute both the basis and extent of the quota increase.

The North East Atlantic mackerel fishery is a relatively selective fishery straddling the waters of several countries, including the UK (which has 30% of the total allocation) and has little by-catch and potentially low environmental impacts. In recent years advances made by the industry to promote a collaborative, effective and sustainable fishery, have resulted in the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) recognising declines in fishing mortality (i.e. fewer fish being caught) and increases in Spawning Stock Biomass (i.e. more mature fish present therefore able to produce more juveniles).

As a result, under the existing stock management plan agreed upon by the EU, Norway and the Faroe Islands the risk of the mackerel stock becoming unsustainable is considered low, contributing to the certification of various components of the fishery by the Marine Stewardship Council. In theory, this should have enabled this shared resource to endure in the long term, providing economic, social and ecological sustainability.

However, with Iceland and the Faroe Islands increasing their intended catch quotas for 2011 to around 304,000 tonnes, representing 47% of the total Total Allowable Catch (TAC) available, the catch looks likely to be taken significantly beyond the ICES- advised TAC and could  jeopardize the long term future of the stock if the matter is not resolved quickly, and catch limits brought back into line with scientific advice.

This type of unilateral action, with the potential for overfishing  the stock, could result in the fishery losing it's certification leaving many UK fishers out of pocket. It also has potentially wider reaching implications for collaborative fisheries management.

MCS says it is clear that fish populations can be dynamic and stock distributions and numbers can change. However, when that happens, other parties may need to be brought into  the management process, which may include renegotiation of existing agreements. 

But, importantly, the fishery must continue to be conducted within the limits of recommended scientific advice, otherwise the competing interests will find themselves fighting over a resource which has disappeared in front of them. There are important lessons to be learned from the recent crisis which occurred with the Blue Whiting fishery in the same North East Atlantic waters, which was hugely depleted due to poor management and overfishing. 

MCS supports the fundamental principle of science-based, long-term sustainable and effective management and is therefore opposed to any activity that exceeds scientific advice intended to conserve or restore the fisheries stock.  The status quo  requires strong leadership, collaboration and significant effort on the part of multiple stakeholders.  A solution is needed  which takes into account the realities of stock movement, historical aspects of the fishery, appropriate harvesting strategies and maintenance of both product and sustainability certification.

Read a position statement from MCS about the issue here or visit the reports and downloads section of Fishonline for more.

For a BBC "Questions and Answers" description (from January 2011) click here.














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