NAPA and MSC urge "tangible action" on pelagic overfishing in North Atlantic

A fishing vessel heading out to sea.

The North Atlantic Pelagic Advocacy Group (NAPA) has joined forces with the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) to urge "tangible action" on the sustainable management of Northeast Atlantic pelagic stocks. 

The collaboration comes after a previous effort from NAPA to urge alignment with catch-limit advice from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES). Ahead of the mid-October 2022 Coastal States meetings, and November’s North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission (NEAFC) meeting, the two organizations have written an open letter to E.U. fisheries ministers requesting they rectify management flaws that they maintain are fueling overfishing in the Northeast Atlantic.

The letter claims overfishing has been taking place in the region since 2014, and that the consistent fishing effort above scientific advice “has the potential to throw this vital ecosystem out of balance,” with knock-on impacts for the environment, fishers, consumers, and the supply chain. 

It suggests the suspension of MSC certification for Northeast Atlantic mackerel, Atlanto-Scandian herring, and blue whiting in 2019 and 2020, together with the loss of MarinTrust certification for blue whiting, were the ministers’ “warning signs” that significant management reforms were needed. 

It’s now 2022. No concrete steps have been taken to rectify the fundamental management flaws that are fueling overfishing in the Northeast Atlantic. For that reason, the global marketplace for seafood is speaking up,” the letter states.

In the letter, retailer Aldi South Group voiced its “great concern” at the current situation within the fisheries.

“We urgently call on everyone involved to agree on a binding allocation of catch quotas, which are in line with scientific advice so that we can ensure sustainable fish stock in the future," Aldi Managing Director of Corporate Responsibility Anke Ehlers said. 

U.K. processor Young’s Seafood said it will stop sourcing from these fisheries if the situation remains unresolved and catches continue to be more than ICES advice. French food supplier Labeyrie-Fine-Foods and retailer Woolworths South Africa said made similar threats about changing their purchasing policies to avoid the fisheries.

NAPA said the 50-plus retailers and supply chain businesses that it represents are united the belief that the loss of MSC certification is jeopardizing their ability to meet their commitments to their customers and the planet. In time, this could create far-reaching consequences for business security, it warned.

“The obstacles are entirely political. As fisheries ministers, the solution lies with you and your fellow delegates,” the letter said. “We take this opportunity to remind you of your own commitments to sustainable fishing. All the coastal states catching Northeast Atlantic pelagics have agreed to uphold the [U.N.] Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).”

The letter calls for the implementation of science-based management plans that restore fish stocks in the shortest time to levels that can produce maximum sustainable yield.

“The science is clear: sustainable, well-managed fisheries provide the best chance at securing long-term economic and ecological certainty. We therefore urge nations to set aside national interests and commit to securing long-term science-based agreements for the Northeast Atlantic pelagic stocks during the 2022 annual negotiations,” MSC Regional Director for North Europe Erin Priddle said.  “Global challenges like climate change and political instability may make reaching an agreement more challenging, however, these converging issues also highlight the urgent need to secure the future health of these stocks by progressing a quota-share agreement in line with scientific advice.” 

Together, NAPA and MSC are calling on decision-makers to take three actions at the meetings:

  • Agree to sustainable catch shares, whereby all coastal states take their fair share and prioritize resolving allocation issues around the stocks.
  • Follow the science so the overall catch for each stock does not exceed ICES’ scientific advice .
  • Commit to long-term sustainable management strategies.

“The time has come to choose healthy stocks, healthy fisheries, and healthy politics," the letter said. "We urge you not to walk away from stock management negotiations without a fair, collective agreement.”

Photo courtesy of MyImages - Micha/Shutterstock 


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