Aquafeed companies issue ultimatum: Fix North Atlantic blue whiting issues or we'll stop buying it

The logos for Skretting, Cargill, and BioMar

The North Atlantic Pelagic Advocacy Group (NAPA) has declared its members will cease buying North Atlantic blue whiting if upcoming negotiations dont' bring its total allowable catch (TAC) back into recommended levels. 

Skretting, Cargill, and BioMar, all major aquafeed companies that are NAPA members, said without any action by coastal states to reduce fishing pressure on North Atlantic blue whiting, they will stop buying the species completely. The three businesses said that sustainable feed is essential to the sustainable development of aquaculture – and the current lack of sustainable fishing pressures on the species poses a problem. 

“The spotlight is on aquaculture to develop sustainably and a key part of that requires sustainably managed feed ingredients,” Cargill Sustainability Program Lead Dave Robb said in a release. “Fisheries around the world are under pressure and we should be able to look to the European coastal states for leadership on responsible and sustainable management of shared fisheries resources such as Northeast Atlantic blue whiting, mackerel, and herring – especially when the premiers of three of the states are represented in the High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy.”

North Atlantic blue whiting lost its Marine Stewardship Council certification in 2020, after NAPA warned for months the species was at risk of losing its eco-label. MSC blamed a lack of international effort in setting the quota low enough to remain within scientific recommendations made by the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES) as the reason for its withdrawal of its certification, which had a knock-on effect that caused the fishery to also lose MarinTrust certification.

Since that time, NAPA has been pushing for more-dramatic action. Buyers pushed for cuts to proposed TACs in October 2022 to bring them back in line with scientific advice, and urged concrete steps to be taken to “rectify the fundamental management flaws."

Now, NAPA is calling for coastal states to adhere to a blue whiting fishery improvement project it established in 2021 to bring the stock back to sustainable levels so it can regain its sustainability certifications.  

“Establishing a fishery improvement program through the North Atlantic Pelagic Advocacy Group provides a highly credible way for regulators, fishing associations, and fishers to engage to find a solution that delivers a long-term solution for sustainable management of shared stocks,” Robb said. “We call on all stakeholders to engage actively and sincerely in the progress in line with broader commitments to ocean stewardship as part of a sustainable economy.”

In 2022, consultations between the European Union, Northeast Atlantic coastal states, the United Kingdom, and Norway concluded on a 2023 blue whiting TAC of 1,359,629 metric tons (MT), an 81 percent increase over the catch in 2022. That total is technically within the scientific advice of ICES as the stock saw a population boom that increased by similar amounts – but NAPA is pushing for cuts to counter two previous years of overfishing. 

According to NAPA, the sum total of coastal-state fishing pressures was 130 percent, or 30 percent above, the scientific advice in 2021. That number increased in 2022 to 147 percent of the scientifically recommended catch level. Now, the population boom of blue whiting is offering a “golden opportunity” for coastal states to establish a precautionary approach that allows coastal states to still catch as many fish as they have in the past two years, while still remaining sustainable.

“Einstein reputedly once said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Should the states continue to take the same size slice of pie, they will continue their overfishing,” NAPA Project Lead Tom Pickerell said. “We have calculated that each state could lower their allocation (their pie slice) by 23 percent to ensure that the sum of all allocations is 100 percent – or to put it another way, to stop overfishing. Because of the increase in the scientific advice, such a reduction would still actually result in an increase in catch for each state of approximately 12 percent! It’s a win-win.”

For Skretting, Cargill, and BioMar, the stakes are simple: Keep blue whiting sustainable or the fishery is off the table for purchases.

“If the FIP should fail, we will stop purchasing blue whiting as we, our customers, and stakeholders follow the highest ethical and sustainability standards,” BioMar said. “It is vital that an agreement on the distribution of quotas can be achieved, and we urge the coastal states to find a resolution promptly to avoid any potential risks of overfishing and therefore failure of the current FIP.”  


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