Positive decisions made on Northeast Atlantic mackerel


Last week over in the Emerald Isle, the EU, Norway and the Faroe Isles brokered a deal on the future of mackerel in the Northeast Atlantic. The tiger-striped pelagic fish may rarely appear on your dinner plate, but the deal done matters to Scotland.  Mackerel is the single most valuable stock to the Scottish fleet, accounting for 38% of the total value of all fish landings into Scotland, some £195 million. To Fraserburgh and to Lerwick, where the the catch is landed, the fish is a vital. Last year we exported £115m tonnes of mackerel to the world, up 40% on 2013, and that’s despite the closure of the Russian market.

To understand the deal you need to know a little of what has been happening to the mackerel.  First things first, the stock is in robust good health. The Marine Stewardship Council awarded Northeast Atlantic mackerel their highest accolade for sustainability in 2009.  Supermarkets the length and breadth of the UK have promoted the value of eating pelagic fish rich in Omega-3 oils.

However, back in April 2012 a cloud appeared on the horizon. Changes in mackerel migration, resulted in the fish appearing in greater quantities in the waters of Iceland and the Faroes. The reasons for this are not clear although some have cited global warming as a factor.

Whatever the cause, the fishermen from the Viking lands determined that, with the fish now in their territorial waters they deserved a greater share of the fishery. So ensued a titanic viking fishery for mackerel. Between 2007 and 2011, Iceland increased its catch four fold.  The Faroese increased their catch five fold.  As a result the mackerel fishery was overfished by some 50%.  Within only three years, the sustainable accreditation which Scots fishermen had done so much to protect was lost. The stalemate ended in 2014 with a five-year deal that sadly rewarded the over fishing of the northern nations.  All of which brings me back to the Ireland and the mackerel agreement where the nations agreed a long-term management strategy for the mackerel. It is indeed time to re-build the confidence in the mackerel so nearly lost.

The agreement includes commitments from all Member States to collaborate on a new triennial fish egg survey which should ensure that the best scientific data is used to determine future catches, which is just as well, because the current proposal based upon a less robust approach recommends a cut of 30%.  Revising the methodology ahead of the egg survey is clearly short-sighted, and the final catch agreement reflects this, a 15% reduction, rather than the full 30%. The adjustment would mean that Scottish boats will be able to catch 156,000t of mackerel in the year to come.

Not as good as it should of been but not as bad as it could have been. Such outcomes count for progress these days.