North East Atlantic mackerel caught after 2 March won’t be MSC-certified

North East Atlantic mackerel caught after 2 March will no longer be considered Marine Stewardship Council-certified, as the certifier is suspending its approval of the fishery. 

Four certificates for fisheries spanning eight countries will be impacted by the suspension, the MSC said. The decision was driven by the revelation that the North East Atlantic mackerel stock had fallen below a precautionary threshold, with catches remaining higher than advised by scientists. An expedited audit carried out by independent certifiers in November 2018 corroborates such findings, according to the resulting report released on 31 January, 2019. 

Atlantic mackerel stocks in the northeast have been falling steadily for the better part of a decade, starting in 2011 when the fishery had reached a high of 4.79 metric tons, according to the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES), the world’s oldest intergovernmental science organization. Recent years have seen high fishing pressure combined with poor recruitment to reduce the stock, which ultimately prompted ICES to issue a warning in September 2018 that the stock had dwindled below 2.75 million metrics tons, the point at which it is considered necessary to take action in order to allow stocks to recover. 

ICES has recommended that the total allowable catch (TAC) for the fishery be significantly reduced to 318,403 metric tons, a 68.2 percent cut in current TAC, to allow stocks to be restored to a sustainable level. Cutting the TAC to ICES’s suggested degree would allow the North East Atlantic mackerel stock to reach a sustainable level by 2020-2021, according to short-term projections. To maintain TAC at its current level would see the stock plummeting to a point where recruitment would be severely impaired in 2020, the MSC said. 

While the MSC’s decision to revoke its approval of the fishery is sure to disappoint fishers of the region and the consumers they serve, Camiel Derichs, Europe director for the MSC, believes improvement is on the horizon.

“This news will be a disappointment for the fishermen as well as for mackerel loving consumers,” Derichs said in a prepared statement. “However, factors including declining stocks, quotas set above new scientific advice and poor recruitment have combined to mean that the fisheries no longer meet the MSC’s requirements. That said, I am confident that the fisheries and other stakeholders involved will deliver a plan to improve the situation.” 

“There is already work underway to review the way mackerel stocks are assessed,” he added. “The fisheries have confirmed that they will work with management authorities to, as appropriate, adopt measures enabling recovery of the stock. If successful, that may enable reinstatement of the MSC certificates by the certification bodies.” 

A benchmark assessment for the mackerel stock has been launched by ICES, with results expected by spring of this year. One potential outcome of the assessment could be that estimates for the stock size of the fishery shift back above 2.75 million metrics tons, the MSY trigger point, in which case, the MSC will “likely conduct a second expedited audit in spring, to assess the impact of that new estimate on the fisheries’ performance against the MSC Fisheries Standard,” it said. 

“This could be a basis for a reinstatement of the certificates for mackerel fisheries. However, it will not solve the ongoing challenges on sharing the stock or fishing above the scientific advice would still apply. The fisheries have existing conditions as part of their MSC certificates to deliver improvements in the management for mackerel. There is an ongoing need for coastal states to set quotas and management measures in line with scientific advice,” the MSC said.  

Fisheries that are affected by the MSC’s latest North East Atlantic mackerel decision include: ISF Iceland mackerel; Northern Ireland Pelagic Sustainability Group (NIPSG) Irish Sea-Atlantic mackerel and North Sea herring;Faroese Pelagic Organisation North East Atlantic mackerel; and MINSA North East Atlantic mackerel. 

Comprising MINSA North East Atlantic mackerel are: 

  • Denmark DPPO (Danish Pelagic Producers Organization)
  • IrelandIPSA (Irish Pelagic Sustainability Association)
  • IrelandIPSG (Irish Pelagic Sustainability Group)
  • NetherlandsPFA (Pelagic Freezer-Trawler Association – Netherlands)
  • Norway NFA (Norges Fiskarlag/Norwegian Fishermen’s Association)
  • SwedenSPFPO (Swedish Pelagic Federation Producers Organisation)
  • UK SPSG (Scottish Pelagic Sustainability Group)

The MSC operates as an independent certification standards body and has no formal link to ICES. As such, ICES had no comment on the certifier’s decision to rescind certification for North East Atlantic mackerel.


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