The Arctic Circle Assembly 2021 has called for urgent quota sharing agreement for North-East Atlantic pelagic fish stocks

The Arctic Circle Assembly 2021 has called for urgent quota sharing agreement for North-East Atlantic pelagic fish stocks. Photo: Roar Bjånesøy

The MSC at the Arctic Circle Assembly 2021 was held between the 14 and 17 October where attendees heard that action needs to be urgently taken on the over exploitation of three important pelagic stocks in the North-East Atlantic.

The Arctic Circle Assembly is the largest annual international gathering on the Arctic, attended by more than 2,000 participants from over 60 countries. The Assembly is held every October in Reykjavik, Iceland.

The assembly is convened by the Arctic Circle, an organisation — set up former president of Iceland, Olafus Ragnar Grimsson, and former Premier of Greenland, Kuupik Kleist — to encourage dialogue and solutions among politicians, business leaders and scientists to address issues facing the Arctic as a result of climate change and melting sea ice.

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High profile and influential politicians have attended in the past, including US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, John Kerry, former French President Francoise Holland, former Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-Moon, and Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

On the Arctic Circle Assembly agenda was:

  • Important pelagic fish stocks in the North-East Atlantic – mackerel, Atlanto-Scandian herring and blue whiting are being overexploited because international governments are repeatedly failing to reach quota sharing agreements.
  • 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 must reach a quota sharing agreement at the Coastal States meetings between 19 and 27 October 2021 to protect stocks from overfishing.

The Marine Stewardship Council’s (MSC’s) Gisli Gislason who spoke at the Arctic Circle Assembly said:

“Since 2015 the combined catch of North-East Atlantic Mackerel, blue whiting and herring have exceeded sustainable levels by 34% or 4.8 million tonnes. We wanted to use this platform to influence governments to urgently find solutions. After all, it is the failure of some of the richest nations in the world to agree to limit catch quotas that has caused this crisis. As a result of inaction, every year these three fish species are fished above scientific advice set by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES).

“The situation has resulted in the suspension of MSC certificates for these stocks in 2019. The continuous overshooting of scientific advice is threatening the long-term sustainability of these stocks. These shared natural resources are being fished according to quotas that are set unilaterally by individual nations and which, when combined, consistently exceed scientifically advised catch limits.

“We are calling on the governments of the North-East Atlantic to reach a shared agreement for managing these important stocks. This agreement must be in line with new scientific advice on 2022 catch levels released by ICES on 30th September, 2021. Otherwise, there could be devastating consequences for these iconic species, local ocean biodiversity and the fishing communities that depend on them.”

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