Mackerel caught in the North Sea and Atlantic is to lose its highly valued sustainable status in light of the massively increased quotas approved by the Faroese and Icelandic governments.
The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), which in a world first recently certified Shetland’s king scallop, velvet crab and brown crab fisheries, is to suspend its accreditation for eight mackerel fisheries from Saturday.
The council believes the increase in catch to approximately 900,000 tonnes as a result of the increases by Faroe and Iceland – 260,000 tonnes greater than the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (Ices) recommended limit – is putting stocks at severe risk of over-fishing.
The EU and Norway have been trying for two years to get Faroe and Iceland to sign up to a deal to maintain the MSC status, but the islands’ governments have argued that mackerel is much more abundant in the north Atlantic now and the new quotas reflect that.
Scottish fisheries minister Richard Lochhead, visiting Shetland today, said: “In so many ways Shetland is blazing a trail in terms of fisheries management and that is why a number of products have just achieved MSC status, which shows the stamp of sustainability which is what customers want to see, and it shows that fishing management is doing very, very well in our local waters here.
“But of course there are some issues that are impacted by international experience such as the mackerel fishing, which again is hugely important to Shetland.
“But because of the actions of the Faroes and Iceland, that fishery is now in danger of losing its MSC status because it’s not part of an international agreement to manage it properly in the years ahead.
“That’s not because of the actions of Shetland, or Scotland or Europe for that matter, or even Norway, but because of these two countries, Faroes and Iceland, unilaterally setting their own massive quotas, irrespective of the damage that will cause to this very important stock.
“So we have to sort it out once and for all and that’s why we’re calling on Europe to bring forward economic trade sanctions to put in place to show these two countries we’re very serious about not accepting their irresponsible behaviour.”
He said the UK government had to realise that the situation was urgent. Another year without an international agreement would be unacceptable and sanctions were now necessary to bring Faroe and Iceland back to the negotiating table.
Chairman of the Shetland Fishermen’s Association Leslie Tait said: “We have had the industry working to achieve sustainable stock for a number of years, and to lose it through the actions of others is not acceptable.
“They [the Scottish government] should be doing everything in their power. It seems sanctions are the only weapon we have.”
The MSC decision means mackerel products will no longer be permitted to bear the blue swoosh eco-label, which according to The Guardian will affect 1,400 fresh, smoked, tinned and frozen eco-labelled products sold across Europe.
James Simpson, an MSC spokesman, said: “It’s a very difficult position. There will be people that consider it unfair, but the MSC mission is about productivity and sustainability of fisheries. And it is essential that fisheries work to maintain their certification status, and achieve a sustainable level across the entire stock.”