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Commercial Fishing



Disappointment over MSC mackerel suspension, but work in progress to evaluate and improve scientific assessment process. A grouping of northern European mackerel fishing organisations has expressed disappointment that Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification of the North East Atlantic mackerel fishery will be suspended at the beginning of March but is hopeful that certification will soon be reinstated once a more detailed scientific evaluation of the stock is completed.

The 2018 scientific NE Atlantic mackerel stock assessment, which was released last October, estimated a downward trend in spawning stock biomass, placing it below a reference point that indicates management action should be taken to reduce fishing pressure so as to ensure long-term sustainability of the stock. Reaching this reference point was the trigger that resulted in the decision to suspend MSC certification, commencing 2 March 2019.

However, the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) – the scientific body that evaluates stock status and provides catch advice  –  is uncertain whether the assessment accurately reflects what is happening with the stock, which could be due to issues with data inputs and the way the assessment model handles the data.

In particular, ICES notes that the way the mackerel tagging data is treated by the stock assessment model can change the estimate of the stock size considerably. Another factor that may have contributed to the 2018 assessment is that estimates for the number of young fish due to enter the fishery (recruitment) has not been quantified for 2016 and 2017, due to the data being unavailable at the time of the assessment.

As a result, ICES has instigated an inter-benchmark process that will bring the science community together to investigate these issues. It will conclude on 4 March 2019 and could lead to the stock assessment advice being revised.

The MSC certification suspension involves the MINSA (Mackerel Industry Northern Sustainability Alliance) fishery, along with all other certified North East Atlantic mackerel fisheries. MINSA is operated by an international group of North East Atlantic pelagic fishing organisations that was set up to establish MSC certification of the fishery and to ensure the long-term sustainability of the stock.

Ian Gatt, co-ordinator of MINSA, said: “MINSA is frustrated that the certifying body auditors have taken this decision, given that new information regarding the status of the stock will be available in March.

“We are disappointed that MSC certification will be suspended in early March, but are hopeful it will prove to be short-lived and once new scientific information comes to light from the ICES inter-benchmark process, the suspension can be lifted soon after.

“Due to the seasonal nature of the fishery, very little fishing for mackerel by MINSA members will actually take place between the start of the March and the end of August, and we hope that MSC status will have been regained before this late summer fishery commences.

“We are working closely with ICES through their inter-benchmark process and a special international scientific workshop will also convene this May to look at how we can improve the accuracy of the data assessment process for mackerel. As a responsible industry, we are committed to the long term sustainability of the North East Atlantic mackerel stock and ensuring we have in place effective management measures to achieve this.”