EU, Norway mackerel upgraded on fish to eat list

Published on
May 15, 2013

The Marine Conservation Society (MCS) on 16 May published a set of revised ratings for Northeast Atlantic (NEA) mackerel that the NGO believes better reflects the damaging effect the catch share stand-off is having on the stock.

With the Faroe Islands and Iceland continuing to set mackerel quotas outside of international agreements and scientific advice, the MCS has elected to separate out the fisheries to encourage consumers to source the most sustainable mackerel — fish caught by the EU and Norway.

This is the first time the fisheries have been separated and rated on their own merits.

As a result of the reclassification, fish caught by the EU and Norwegian fleets have been upgraded from an MCS “Fish to Eat” rating of 4 (orange) to MCS 3 (yellow), which advises “fish to eat with caution.” At the same time, the traditional and highly sustainable Southwest U.K. handline fishery now qualifies as a “good choice” through its new rating of 2 (green).

“The political impasse is playing a dangerous game with fish stocks, resulting in the twin perils of poor fisheries management and increasing levels of by-catch,” said Jim Masters, MCS Fisheries and Aquaculture program manager.

Masters confirmed the best choice for mackerel remains fish caught locally using traditional handline methods.

“It’s without doubt the most sustainable method of fishing for mackerel and other species. It is labor intensive but produces quality fish that should attract a premium price. Any market flooded with poor quality fish that drives down both prices and sustainability is bad news for everyone.”

The continued overfishing of the stock and the suspension of the Marine Stewardship Council certification in March 2012 prompted the MCS to down-list its rating of NEA mackerel in January this year. However, it has been working closely with the fishing industry since to ensure consumers are as well informed as they can be, and to strongly advise them to seek out the most sustainable sources of mackerel.

The reclassification has been welcomed by the Scottish Pelagic Processors Association (SPPA), which had been campaigning for recognition of the sustainable fishing practices employed by European and Norwegian fleets since the downgrade.

“We welcome today’s decision by the MCS to reclassify mackerel caught by members of the European and Norwegian fleet in recognition of our commitment to work together to safeguard the long-term sustainability of the stock,” said Francis Clark, SPPA board member.

“We also applaud the MCS’s decision to classify mackerel caught by Icelandic and Faroese trawlers with a four, which means people should avoid eating it.”

As part of the Mackerel Industry Northern Sustainability Alliance (MINSA), the SPPA has been working with the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES) and other scientific bodies to better understand stock levels. Last year, all member countries agreed to reduce their quota by 15 percent in line with advice.

“Eating oily fish has tremendous health benefits. Our aim is to make sure people across the U.K. have access to the most sustainable sources of mackerel available,” said Clark.

“As an industry body we also want to safeguard the livelihood of the mackerel fishing and processing industry in the U.K. The species is worth GBP 324 million (USD 492.9 million, EUR 383.1 million) to the economy and supports over 2,200 jobs.”

Scotland’s Fishing Minister Richard Lochhead also applauded the re-grade of mackerel.

“I am pleased that the MCS has taken a more sensible approach to this issue by upgrading our sustainably caught mackerel. It is important that the grading is fair and recognizes the difference between that which is sustainably caught and that which is not,” said Lochhead.

“The mackerel stock is currently still healthy, although the science shows it is beginning to be affected by the overfishing of Iceland and Faroe,” said Lochhead. “So we all recognize that this situation cannot be allowed to continue — we need to find an agreement as soon as possible.”

The new MCS ratings show:?Best Choice - Cornish handline-caught mackerel (MCS rating 2)?

Best Alternative - UK /EU/Norwegian pelagic caught mackerel (MCS rating 3)?

Least Sustainable - Icelandic and Faroese pelagic caught mackerel (MCS rating 4)

Contributing Editor reporting from London, UK

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