In the second podcast of the series, Oliver McBride speaks to Tom Pickerell, Project Lead with the North Atlantic Advocacy Group (NAPA Group)


Oliver McBride: Hi there and welcome to The Fishing Daily podcast.  

Today I have Tom Pickerell project lead from the North Atlantic Pelagic Advocacy Group with me.  

Thank you for joining me, Tom. 

Tom Pickerell: Thanks very much for having me. 

Oliver McBride: Some suppose, I guess we better start off with a little background on the North Atlantic Pelagic Advisory group. Who are they and what they do? 

Tom Pickerell: Yes, certainly so the group was created by members themselves as a sector wide multi stakeholder initiative of companies that were involved in the purchasing and sourcing of North East Atlantic pelagic species. To try to address some of the shared noncompetitive sustainability issues in the fisheries there. So, they were they were concerned by some of some of the management decisions. 

And they thought if they can come together work collectively, they may be able to influence this for the benefit of everyone. 

OMB: So how is the Napa Group important in the fishing industry? 

TP: So, that the Napa Group as it stands, so far represents a number of different areas of the supply chain. So, we have retail. We have food service, we have processor importer supplier and we’ve also got some feed companies as well as some of this farm salmon companies that rely on the feed. So they’re concerned with mackerel and blue whiting, which is their big feed component and Norwegian spring spawning Herring or Atlanto-scandian herring. So, these are the three fish that we are really concerned about. 

OMB: And how does the group go about making decisions? 

TP: So, the group operates on a level. We have a different types of Members. We have paying Members which are members of our steering committee. We have nonpaying members so these are companies that have an interest in these fisheries but that are maybe one step removed or this isn’t like a priority for them. A sort of priority species in their business, but they wish to support the efforts of everyone else and so decisions are made by the steering committee, which is chaired by Seafish who act as an independent chair. 

OMB; Is there any pelagic species the group is worried about at the moment? 

TP: Yeah, it’s the three key species that were working on that we have the significant concerns about, and this was this sort of the stimulus for the group to be set up.  

It all started back with the MSC certificate suspension of mackerel back in 2019, this mackerel was being at MSC Certified Fishery in the region for quite a while and it’s an important fishery for many businesses who have made commitments to the MSC and other certification schemes. So, when that certificate was suspended it had quite an impact on the supply chain. All of a sudden there their portfolio of species that meet these sustainable requirements was diminish. 

So, the early version of the group convened to discuss why has this happened, and what is happening. At the sort of the early discussions, it was realised that one of the, well, the key factor in the certificate loss for the mackerel was the fact that the quotas that were being agreed were exceeding the scientific advice and there was no sort of long-term management for the for the stock. 

And of course, that’s a new requirement for this certification. But when they looked into it, the same situation was happening for herring and blue whiting, and that certificate for those fisheries was at threat. And what we’ve actually seen is no management changes had happened in the inside the last year. And as of December, last year, the MSC Certificate for Herring, North AtlantoScandian herring, and blue whiting has also been suspended, so we are now faced with this situation where we had these three stocks that had some very good MSC Certified Fisheries within them, that was obviously of huge importance to the market, then that’s gone now. 

Particularly for the blue whiting, the impact of the certificate suspension has been that the Aquaculture Stewardship Council ASE certificates for some of the salmon that uses blue whiting as feed that has been impacted because that is a requirement of the ASC certification. So, you can see it’s quite a knock-on effect. And of course, salmon is also a big seller for the retail sector. 

So, we have this big mess essentially and the group is really concerned about this impact of these three suspensions. 

OMB: Is there a reason behind the impacts on mackerel, herring and blue whiting? Is it global warming? Is it overfishing? Or is it some other factor? 

TP: Yeah, that’s a great question. What has caused this? 

Well in previous years, say around about mid 2000s for mackerel, let’s take mackerel for example, round about the mid 2000s, Iceland had a national quota of mackerel for about 2000 tonnes, or a tiny component of the fishery. And what we’ve seen is a westerly migration of mackerel from there sort of normal distribution in the North East Atlantic into Icelandic waters, sort of moving beyond Iceland into Greenland.  

And of course, those countries are now seeing certain influx of mackerel into their waters and their boats are able to catch it. So, a fishery has emerged and of course it’s a valuable product and what we’ve seen is the countries that never really had a share of the quota calling for a larger share and that’s causing some sort of issues with the allocation of quotas, as you can imagine, because no one really wants to give up what they’ve already got.  

There have been discussions about allocations of this, and for example there has been agreement previous agreements with the EU, Norway in the Faroes on mackerel for example, and they’d offered Iceland a percentage, but that didn’t meet the Icelandic’s requirement, so they wanted more than that was offered and what Iceland did in the end was they set a unilateral quota. So, they set their own quota. 

And what you have is result of this is with the setting of these unilateral quotas, which are outside of a sort of a collaborative agreement is when you add up all the individual quotas, they exceed the scientific advice, and as a result with mackerel, we’re taking about 30% more than the scientific advice is saying we should. And of course, that’s overfishing. 

And while that hasn’t led to the stock to be overfished, yet, because you know, it’s this is quite resilient stock, the spawning stock biomass, so that’s the number of mackerel in the sea, is essentially decreasing, so we’re not yet at that sort of that bad level, but you know, we’re overfishing at the minute, and it’s that the reason why it’s lost its certificate. We have the groups the coastal states that are involved in the fishery are not able to agree on a level that’s within scientific limits, so people are wanting more than there than others are willing to give and that’s what it boils down to.  

There’s no problems with bycatch. There’s no problems with the actual stock level at the minute. There’s no problem with habitat impact by the former fishing. It’s an entirely political issue, and that’s the same with herring and blue whiting. 

OMB: How would that impact on say like mackerel fishing for the UK and Ireland in the longterm? 

Yeah, and you could ask that question for any of the coastal states. What we’re seeing is that the EU, UK, while the EU/UK split is still to be sort of finalisedof course dealing with Brexit. But if we just take that as the EU split. The EU volume that that has been allocated to them hasn’t really changed, but the long-term consequences will be if we continue overfishing then of course the SSB is going to decrease and then the actual proportion will decrease and so if things don’t change, one will be the consequences with this fishery stock won’t have fisheries that are MSC certified, which may have market impacts, but also the total share of for everyone will decrease so everyone will get less, so it’s a bit of a strange situation because if everyone managed to agree to fish within the scientific levels, we will probably see the stock increase and then everyone would get bigger percentage than they get if the stock is of a smaller size. 

OMB: How long would it take for these fisheries to get their certification back, say everybody did fall in line and agreed to proper quotas? 

TP: It would be incredibly quick. Incredibly quick, because the fisheries are, they’ve already had MSC assessment. I don’t think it’s quite as simple as just rescinding the suspension. I think there is a timeline for that they would need to sort of confirm, but it’s reasonably soon for the mackerel, but everything else is in place. You know we don’t have to rebuild the stock. It is a political decision and if that political decision was made then it would be a case of just going through the MSC process again, which is, you know, the assessment stakeholder, input and then certification, so it would be a very straight forward issue. 

You know, how are we going to try to improve the situation there as NAPA?  

We are trying to use our sort of combined commercial leverage to say, hey, you know we are your customers? 

An end to the actual decision makers, which aren’t the fishermen. Of course, its politicians. You know we are a significant part of the economy here and we want you to manage it appropriately. And if you do, then everyone’s going to benefit, the ecosystem will be benefit, the all the catching sector will benefit and of course, the market will benefit.  

So, it’s a kind of a number win situation and how we’re trying to do that is through the framework of a fishery improvement project for the mackerel and herring and through the Marin Trust Improver Project for the blue whiting, which is a very similar structure. It’s just sort of aimed at feed fisheries. So this improvement project framework essentially sets out what needs to happen by whom to move the fishery from this level of environmental performance to this level, and this level being that would achieve MSC. 

The first part of that is to sort of do an analysis of what are the actual problems with the fishery. 

And that’s confirmed to us what we already knew. Its management, and that’s the thing that needs to change so we could get a really quick turnaround. 

OMB:  If the stocks are managed the way that they are at the moment, how long would it take the stocks to deteriorate and become endangered? 

TP: That’s a really difficult question to answer because these stocks are by nature highly fluctuating, so we could see very good recruitment and the stock actually increased despite this overfishing, which is that which is sort of a separate issue to the issue at hand. If you know, this highly fluctuating nature can have an impact on certificationsbut the key thing for us is the fact that it’s the market impact on the lack of certifications and they really have to sort of pull that back.  

So it’s about reducing the risk of fisheries actually dropping into that danger area or the precautionary level. So yeah, by managing appropriately, not only do we greatly reduce the risk but there should be more fish for everyone. 

OMB: So, is there anything you on the horizon for NAPA in 2021? 

TP: Yeah, 2021 is going to be a big year for NAPA. We’ve mentioned the fishery improvement projects. We’re going to be launching these formally, hopefully in this quarter. We just got to get them reviewed so the for the fishery improvement project for the mackerel and herring that will be our project will be launched on a platform called Fishery Progress, which is a platform set up to host fishery improvement projects, and we’re going to have a three-year timeline for us to make these improvements to the fishery. For the blue whiting we will also be launching our Marin Trust Improver Programme, that will be hosted by Marin Trust.  

So, we’re going to have two very transparent platforms that will be using. Anyone could actually see the progress we’re making. So, that’s the key thing here; launch the improvement projects and we’ve given ourselves a three-year timeline. You can have up to five years, but we feel that five years is too long for this. You know as I’ve mentioned it, it can be a quick turnaround because this is like as a political issue. So, three years to do that. With the other big thing we’re launching this year is a catching sector round table. 

And that’s going to be to bring together all the pelagic catching sector organisations, so not individual fishermen necessarily, but the organisations that represent them so we, NAPA can speak to them and to explain what we’re doing, why we are doing it and explain the market impact of the certifications loss. Ideally, we would like to get the catching sector working with us to call for this improved management by the decision makers. 

We understand the allocation of quotas is of prime interest to the catching sector. NAPA is completely neutral on allocations. Were across all the different coastal states are members and we have no position allocation. We’re not saying you know these coastal states should get this percent. That’s not what we are about, but what we’d love to see is if the catching sector are able to come to an agreement that works for them, then we will get behind that and support them. Because if we can go to the decision makers and the politicians or the civil servants and say, “Look, we’re the key stakeholders here and we are all saying the same thing”, then there should be nothing that stops him from making that decision. 

OMB: Tom, thank you for that. It’s very interesting. I’m sure our readers and listeners will have a lot of questions about it and maybe we might have you back on again if we if we do. 

Would that be okay with you? 

TP: Absolutely pleasure to update everyone on how the improvement projects going and you know the next big thing on our calendar will be in terms of decision making, will be the Coastal States Meetings which take place in October and that’s where the coastal states EU, Norway, Faroes, Iceland, etc,. They come together to discuss and make agreements on what happens with these fisheries and then the decisions are essentially ratified the following month by the North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission which is in November. So, we’ve got until October to convince these decision makers of what needs to happen. 

We will be rolling out a common strategy, lots of advocacy in the meantime so it would be great to update you on how that’s happening and what advances we’ve made. 

OMB: We are looking forward to that top. Thank you very much. 

TP: No, thank you very much.