Following the recent setting of the total allowable catch (TAC) of North-east Atlantic mackerel (and blue whiting and Atlanto-Scandian herring) for 2024, the Scottish mackerel sector is calling for renewed efforts to resolve the quota shares dispute among coastal states, underlining that the UK has meticulously abided to its traditional share and not embarked upon unilateral increases in quota as carried out by other countries.
For mackerel, the coastal states agreed to set the TAC for 2024 at 739,386 tonnes. This TAC is in line with ICES advice, following the maximum sustainable yield approach and is 5% lower than the TAC agreed for 2023. However, in recent years, Iceland, Russia, Norway, Greenland and the Faroe Islands have all unilaterally increased their catch allowances without international agreement, putting pressure on the stock.
Under the latest TAC resolution signed on 18 October, it was agreed among coastal states that they would intensify efforts to seek a solution to the impasse by early 2024, and discussed the need that for the interim period, quotas should be set at a level that does not prejudice the quota sharing discussions.
Ian Gatt, chairman of the Scottish Pelagic Sustainability Group (SPSG), said: “Scottish fishermen and processors are committed to sustainability and the UK has meticulously abided by international agreements on catch shares based on scientific advice.
“The principles for a new sharing arrangement must be based on the best available science on stock distribution. Parties have the basis to agree this with the adoption of the updated Report of the 2023 Coastal States Working group on the distribution of mackerel in the North-east Atlantic.”
SPSG represents the catching, processing and marketing sectors of Scotland’s pelagic industry and was established to oversee the certification of its main fisheries to the Marine Stewardship Council eco-label standard, and is also driving forward a number of other sustainability initiatives. SPSG says there are six main issues that need urgently addressed. These are:
- Several coastal states are setting high unilateral quotas without international agreement.
- Concern over ‘banking and borrowing’ practices among some of these states, where uncaught quota from one year is carried forward (above the agreed 10% threshold) to the following year. For example, the Faroe Islands carried forward 66,700 tonnes, 42% of their 2022 quota, to 2023.
- Concern about the extent of fishing in North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission (NEAFC) regulatory areas that is taking place in international waters - 274,306 tonnes in 2022 which is 26% of the overall catch.
- Concern over the trans-shipment of catches at sea to other vessels in the NEAFC regulatory areas, making the level and species composition of catches difficult to monitor.
- Concern over the new development of large amounts of mackerel being caught by some coastal states that are targeted for fishmeal production rather than human consumption, which is processed into feed for the aquaculture and livestock sectors. This is estimated to be around 210,000 tonnes in 2023, around 20% of the anticipated 2023 catch.
- Concern over the recent pelagic fleet expansion in the Faroe Islands as a result of their unilateral quota increases, which is not conducive towards reaching an equitable quota sharing agreement. Faroe has granted 10 new pelagic licences, effectively doubling the fleet in the last decade.
Ian Gatt said: “We are especially keen for the UK and international retail sector, as well as consumers, to recognise that this is a situation entirely outside the control of the UK mackerel sector. Our mackerel fishermen and processors have been spearheading a range of conservation and responsible fisheries management measures in recent years, including working in partnership with scientists on the collection of stock data to enhance our knowledge of the fishery and ensure a sustainable future.
“Despite the unilateral actions of some other coastal states, the latest scientific assessments have determined that the North-east Atlantic mackerel stock is currently at above average levels and that there is an encouraging recruitment of juveniles, although the stock is declining from a very high base. There is no room for complacency and an agreement on quota shares is vital to ensure the long-term future of the stock.”
Robert Duthie, chairman of the Scottish Pelagic Processors’ Association said: “Mackerel is a healthy-to-eat fish and research shows that the UK fishery has a lower carbon footprint than most other types of protein production.
“The mackerel processing sector is an important employer in some parts of Scotland and South-west England and the major production volumes are destined for the retail sector.”