First North Atlantic Blue Whiting Fisheries Achieve MSC Certified

The Fish Site
by The Fish Site
18 February 2016, at 12:00am

EU - Two thirds of the total catch of North East Atlantic blue whiting (Micromesistious poutassaou) has achieved Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification for sustainable fishing practices.

Fishers from Denmark, The Netherlands, Ireland, Scotland and France have worked in collaboration to receive the MSC certification. The group consists of the Pelagic Freezer Trawler Association (NL, UK, DE, F, LT), Danish Pelagic Producers Organisation, Killybegs Fishermen´s Organisation Ltd (IRL), Scottish Pelagic Sustainability Group Ltd (UK) and Compagnie des Peches de Saint Malo (F).

Gerard van Balsfoort from the Pelagic Freezer Trawler Association (PFA) who coordinated and represented the client group during the certification process comments: “I am very pleased that the members of the five fisheries organisations have received MSC certification for the Northeast Atlantic Blue Whiting fishery. It once again underlines the long term commitment and cooperation of the EU pelagic fleets in ensuring sustainable fisheries management and selective fishing practices”.

Highly selective fishing techniques

The combined fleet of 72 fishing vessels pursue the same target stock of blue whiting, using pelagic (midwater) trawl, which is a very selective fishing method in terms of the fish species it captures. Blue whiting makes up at least 99% of the average total catch composition of the client fleets.

Echosounding equipment enables skippers to identify blue whiting from its characteristic signal type, depth and location. Once identified, the net is deployed and fishing commences using sonar to show the shoal size and swimming direction. Due to the aggregating nature of blue whiting at spawning time, hauls are very short, typically 10-20 min which also minimises bycatch species.

Four of the certified fisheries sell mainly for human consumption including surimi (fish sticks) and fish pie fillings, while DPPO also supplies the fishmeal industry. There is an increasing demand for blue whiting in African and Chinese markets for human consumption.

A growing stock

Blue whiting is a cod-like fish most commonly around 25cm long. It is found in a depth range of 150 to 3000m, but most commonly at 300-400m and is distributed widely throughout the North-eastern Atlantic. Stocks have been steadily increasing since 2011.

The modern blue whiting fishery developed during the second half of the 1970s and the fishing grounds are well known from fishermen’s experience and scientific surveys. In 2013 the vessels included in this certification landed 73,000 tonnes. The agreed total allowable catch in 2013 for the northern area in the EU was 116,032 tonnes. Going forward the majority of the blue whiting landed from the northern area will be from MSC certified fisheries.

“The certification of the blue whiting fishery is a fantastic achievement for these fishers, and an example of what can be achieved with fishing organisations work together for mutual benefit,” said MSC Europe Director, Camiel Derichs.

“A significant part of the catches of this fleet will find its way to human consumtion markets, including surimi production. However, a sizable portion is used for the production of fishmeal and oil. This fits well in a trend we observe, where a growing interest amongst fishmeal and oil producers for credible verification of sustainability incentivices reduction fisheries to seek MSC certification. The collaboration between these fishers, and their commitment to MSC certification will help to protect the stocks and ensure a strong future for the blue whiting industry. We are delighted that the certification of blue whiting is approved and welcome the commitment among the fisheries to ensure that their blue whiting catch is sustainable.“

The MSC certification is valid for five years and the assessment has been carried out by independent auditors from ME Certification ltd.