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Tuesday, 5 February 2019

MSC suspends all North East Atlantic mackerel certifications

Peterhead based, Kings Cross, just one member of the pelagic fleet likely to be affected by the MSC mackerel suspension.

The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification for all North East Atlantic mackerel fisheries will be suspended on March 2, 2019.

This was announced today through the release of an expedited audit report for all North East Atlantic mackerel fisheries in the MSC program.

Mackerel caught on or after March 2 cannot be sold as ‘MSC certified’ or bear the blue MSC label. The suspension affects all four certificates, for fisheries across eight countries. Sources pointed out to Undercurrent News it was important to note that by that time the mackerel season should be completed, meaning the first impacts of this will be delayed.

The suspension comes after the mackerel stock in the northeast Atlantic dropped below a precautionary threshold level, while catches remain far higher than advised by scientists, said the MSC. The drop in stock triggered an expedited audit by the independent certifiers in November 2018, and the report from that audit was published today.

“This news will be a disappointment for the fishermen as well as for mackerel loving consumers," said Camiel Derichs, Europe director for the MSC. "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. 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.”

Based on the best scientific evidence available, the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) advises that the mackerel stock has been falling steadily since 2011, when it had reached a high of 4.79 million metric tons.

In recent years, high fishing pressure has combined with several years of poor recruitment to reduce the stock. As a result, in September 2018, ICES warned that the stock had dropped below 2.75m metric tons, the point at which it is considered necessary to take action in order to allow stocks to recover.

ICES has recommended a significantly reduced catch of 318,403t, which represents a 68.2% cut in current catches to restore the stock to a sustainable level. Short-term projections suggest that catches in line with the ICES advice would recover the stock above the sustainable level by 2020-2021. Maintaining the current level of catches will result in the stock dropping the point where recruitment is impaired in 2020.

While the expedited audit was taking place, ICES initiated a benchmark assessment for the mackerel stock. This is expected to deliver more insight into the stock status of mackerel in spring 2019. ICES initiated this work to review, and if needed address, uncertainties in the current stock assessment for mackerel.

One possible outcome of that scientific work could be that the estimate of the stock size shifts above the "maximum sustainable yield Btrigger [the value of spawning stock biomass that triggers a specific management action point]".

If this happens, the certifiers 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. 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, said the MSC. 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 fisheries affected are:

  • ISF Iceland mackerel
  • Northern Ireland Pelagic Sustainability Group (NIPSG) Irish Sea-Atlantic mackerel & North Sea herring
  • MINSA North East Atlantic mackerel
  • 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)
  • Faroese Pelagic Organisation North East Atlantic mackerel


There has been an ongoing debate around ICES assessments of the mackerel stocks, with the Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation (KFO) among those that feel it fails to acknowledge a large increase in Atlantic mackerel stocks outside conventional fishing grounds.

It appears Ireland’s Marine Institute and Norway's Institute of Marine Research increasingly share this view.

"The ICES advice for mackerel, I can assure you, is wrong," KFO chief Sean O'Donoghue recently told Undercurrent News. "They’re looking at it now in the first week of March, and they’ll be looking at it more comprehensively in May, but I’m very confident that there will be a significant upward revision of the scientific advice."

Full story from UndercurrentNews.com by Neil Ramsden Jan. 31, 2019.