The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) has accused coastal member state in the North East Atlantic of continued overexploitation of pelagic stocks such as mackerel, Atlanto-Scandian herring and blue whiting.
In their April North East Atlantic Pelagics Quota Factsheet, the MSC says Governments must not lose sight of urgent need for a quota sharing agreement for North East Atlantic pelagic fish stocks and claim that:
- Important pelagic fish stocks in the North East Atlantic – mackerel, Atlanto-Scandian herring and blue whiting – continue to be overexploited due to governments’ inaction to reach quota sharing agreements for these species.
- Over the past six years, total catches have exceeded sustainable levels by almost five million tonnes.
- The states fishing these stocks are some of the wealthiest in the world and have access to rich stock data, giving them a responsibility to follow scientific advice and ensure long-term sustainability.
- Governments failed again to reach a quota sharing agreement at the Coastal States meetings in October 2021, as well as meetings in February and March 2022.
In the fact sheet the MSC says, “Mackerel, Atlanto-Scandian herring and blue whiting in the North East Atlantic make up one of the largest fish populations in Europe. But due to a lack of proper multinational management, these stocks are being overexploited and are put at risk of future collapse.
In recent years, the populations of these stocks have shown an overall downwards trend. The declining population of Atlanto-Scandian herring is particularly concerning, having fallen 36% over the past decade.
This stock collapsed in the late 1960s due to overfishing, and only recovered following 20 years of restricted catches. The loss of these stocks would cause huge harm to marine ecosystems in the region, where they are an important source of food for other species.
Consumers would see popular products vanishing from supermarket shelves and menus across Europe and Japan, and fish farms may face disruption to feed supply, as blue whiting is commonly used to produce fishmeal.
The MSC say that coastal states are consistently setting quotas which, in sum, exceed scientific advice for mackerel, Atlanto-Scandian herring and blue whiting.
While states agree that a Total Allowable Catch aligning with scientific advice from ICES is needed, they are repeatedly failing to agree how to share this catch between them. As a consequence, each state is setting its individual quota instead – and the sum of these individual quotas is consistently higher than the sustainable catch amount advised by ICES.
They claim that over the past six years alone, the total catch of mackerel, Atlanto-Scandian herring and blue whiting has exceeded the advised limit by almost five million tonnes.
The MSC states that international agreement is urgently needed saying:
“The health and availability of these important natural resources are under threat. Only by following scientific advice and agreeing quotas that do not exceed sustainable limits can we protect the stocks for current and future generations.
“The annual Coastal States meetings in October 2021 failed to deliver a quota sharing agreement for the 2022 season. However, in February 2022 states jointly announced their ambition to agree long-term quota sharing arrangements on each stock in the course of 2022, with follow-up negotiations announced for mid-May.
“Action is urgently needed. The distribution of these stocks is shifting, likely accelerated by the impacts of climate change, making the need for adaptive and resilient fisheries management even more crucial.
“The states catching these stocks are some of the wealthiest worldwide and have access to rich stock data and scientific expertise. They are also highly sophisticated in terms of fishing technology, controls and enforcement. It is their responsibility to manage these natural resources sustainably for the good of the industry, society and our planet.
“The states must find solutions to the stock sharing dilemma and, over the course of the coming weeks and months, reach a sharing agreement that will ensure the long-term sustainability of these economically and ecologically important stocks.”