Scottish fishermen have been particularly vocal in expressing fears for the status of their MSC-certified mackerel fishery, given the recent unilateral decision by Iceland and the Faroe Islands to set large quotas of 130,000t and 85,000t respectively for 2010.
Because mackerel is a migrating stock – attracted to the warmer northern waters off countries such as Iceland – over-fishing to the north affects stocks in EU waters, and Scottish fishermen fear unfair penalisation for ‘mis-managing’ fisheries if mackerel disappear.
Matter of time
The Scottish Pelagic Fishermen's Association (SPFA) promotes the interests of Scottish fisherman generally and 25 individual vessels that fish mackerel. Chief executive Ian Gatt said:“It is only a matter of time before numbers fall in our mackerel fisheries and we lose MSC accreditation for supposedly not looking after stocks.”
Asked whether he was able to reassure Scottish mackerel fishermen over accreditation fears, an MSC spokesman told FoodManufacture.co.uk: “Sadly not. Politics does not play a part in any decision on our part to remove accreditation, but we’re working hard with all parties concerned to try and prevent this problem.
“But all the countries involved need to come together and sort this out by December 2011, when the MSC will make key decisions regarding continued accreditation, because over-fishing at current levels is unsustainable.
“If it continues then all MSC-certified mackerel fisheries in the Northeast Atlantic will lose accreditation by January 2012.”
Nonetheless, there is some leeway, the spokesman added: “Given lower limits and higher limits for mackerel stocks, then current levels are well above the upper limit, meaning that we can safely maintain current fishing levels for a year and a bit.”
Icelandic fishermen revealed late last week that they had already fished 75% of their quota for 2010, leading Scottish MEP Struan Stevenson to warn:
“If all the North Atlantic nations take their full declared quotas for 2010 – including Iceland and the Faroes’ inflated ones – it will mean one third of all the 2.6m tonnes of mackerel in the North Atlantic will be killed in a single year.”
Stevenson is representing the EU Parliament at a mackerel summit next week in Torshavn, The Faroe Islands, which will attempt to resolve the dispute.
He is urging blockades against Icelandic and Faroese vessel and bans on mackerel imports from the two countries; he also believes that the EU Commission should put more pressure on Iceland given current EU accession talks.
The so-called ‘Mackerel war’ has become a major diplomatic row, with mackerel landings by Scottish vessels worth £135m in 2009. Angry Scottish fisherman in Peterhead prevented two Faroese vessels from landing mackerel catches in August, in actions that were praised by EU fisheries commissioner Maria Damanaki.