Aquaculture for all

Fishermen Welcome News that NE Atlantic Mackerel Stock in Robust Health

Sustainability Politics

EUROPE - The International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES), the independent scientific organisation which provides guidance on sustainable fishing levels, has issued a recommended 2014 Northeast Atlantic mackerel catch level of 889,886 tonnes, a 64 per cent increase from 2013.

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In previous years, ICES advice on mackerel has been based on the management plan agreed by Norway, Faroe Islands, and European Union (EU). This year, however, ICES was unable to give advice in relation to the plan as there was no accepted analytical assessment for mackerel.

"ICES is trying to produce useful advice while still being precautionary. All indications are that the mackerel stock has increased in recent years despite catches in excess of those advised by ICES. There are technical issues with the input data for the assessment used until 2012 and continuing to use it would imply catch advice markedly lower than current catches," explained ACOM Vice-Chair John Simmonds.

"In the short term ICES is advising no rise in landings for one year to allow scientific work to be completed. ICES is already developing alternative modelling approaches to take account of these data issues," Mr Simmonds continued.

Data from recent years indicates that mackerel stocks have expanded north-westwards to spawn and for the summer feeding migration. This change in distribution likely reflects an increased stock size coupled with changes in the physical environment and in the zooplankton concentration and distribution.

This has had an effect on fisheries. Traditionally, the fishing areas with higher mackerel catches have been in the northern North Sea, around the Shetland Islands, and off the west coast of Scotland and Ireland and extending into Faroese waters to the west. The southern fishery off Spain's northern coast has also accounted for significant catches.

In recent years though, substantial catches have been made in Icelandic waters, areas where almost none were reported prior to 2008. In 2012, catches in this area constituted approximately half of the total reported landings. Those made from Greenland were reported for the first time in 2011, and have increased in 2012.

Announcement Welcomed

The Icelandic government welcomed the assessment, particularly that the mackerel stock has expanded north-westwards into Iceland’s waters.

According to Sigurður Ingi Jóhannsson, Iceland’s Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture, “Recent data shows that the mackerel stock is in strong shape, with the 2013 international trawl survey conducted by Iceland, Norway and the Faroe Islands indicating a stock size of 8.8 million tonnes, far larger than expected."

Iceland’s chief negotiator for mackerel catch quotas, Sigurgeir Þorgeirsson, also stated: “Today’s announcement from ICES is very good news and will provide a positive scientific platform for the Coastal States’ mackerel negotiations later this month."

Ian Gatt, chief executive of the Scottish Pelagic Fishermen’s Association (SPFA), was also pleased with the announcement.

“The scientific advice confirms what Scottish fishermen have repeatedly been saying that the stock remains in good health and that consumers can continue to eat Scottish mackerel safe in the knowledge that the fish are abundant in the sea and being sustainably caught by our fishermen," said Mr Gatt.

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