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Mackerel – What is the Issue?

24 January 2013

UK - The lack of an international agreement on mackerel fishing in the North East Atlantic means that catches have been well in excess of the TAC advised by ICES since 2009. This situation cannot continue indefinitely and corrective action is required to reduce fishing mortality to levels which are consistent with the management plan and long-term Maximum Sustainable Yield.

Mackerel is a highly migratory fish stock and as such is managed under a Coastal States Agreement. Signatories to this agreement have both the right to harvest (utilize) the fish stock and the responsibility to co-operate with other Coastal States on the sustainable management of the stock. The reality is that since 2009 the Coastal States have failed to reach agreement on quotas shares. Both Iceland and the Faeroes have set their own autonomous quotas; the EU and Norway have continued to set a joint TAC based on the previously agreed sharing arrangements from the Coastal States agreement; and ICES continues to advise a scientifically calculated catch, as a result total catches are greatly exceeding ICES advice.

ICES still considers the stock to be at full reproductive capacity and of a sufficient size for reproduction to support a commercial fishery but the trend is towards a decrease in spawning stock biomass. The ICES recommendation for 2013 is in accordance with the management plan. They advise a total catch of between 497,000 to 542,000 tonnes.

To put this into a UK context. In 2011 total catches of NEA mackerel were estimated at 930,000 tonnes. UK fishermen landed 94,400 tonnes (around 10% and mostly exported) and UK consumption was 15,247 tonnes finished product or around 38,000 tonnes round weight (this represents 4% of total NEA landings).

The MSC suspended certification on the seven MSC certified mackerel fisheries in the North East Atlantic in April 2012 because of the inability to agree on quota allocations within the TAC, therefore compromising the management system. For the same reason in January 2013 the MCS has downgraded mackerel and advises only eating it occasionally.

There have been changes to the distribution and timing of migrations, and mackerel spawning patterns and ICES has stated there is insufficient information to reliably estimate the size of the 2009-2011 year classes. The results of the next egg survey, due in 2013, will give an important indication of the status of the SSB, independent of fishery derived results. In addition a Nordic survey (to be carried out jointly between Norway, Iceland and Faroe Islands) will be carried out during summer 2013.

Fish do not respect geographical boundaries so it is imperative that fishing nations co-operate to jointly implement effective management regimes. It is crucial that the EU, Norway, Iceland and the Faeroes re-establish and ratify the Coastal States' agreement.

Paul Williams, CEO of Seafish says "It is important to recognize that science and the fishing industry are in agreement on this one - stocks of mackerel are plentiful. What we are all looking at though is the future of the stock and the cautionary advice now being received from some certification bodies if this situation remains unresolved. The UK industry and supply chain is completely aware of the issue and has a good recent track record of working with environmental organizations to provide the best advice to consumers. That advice as it stands is that we can continue eating mackerel, albeit it with a greater awareness of the issues surrounding it, and due political process will find a solution in time to quotas."

TheFishSite News Desk

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