The body representing the sector – the Scottish Pelagic Sustainability Group (SPSG) – said the presentation by EU fisheries commissioner Maria Damanaki demonstrated the industry’s commitment to sustainable harvesting.
The special accreditation means up to 98 per cent of the SPSG’s catches of almost 220,000 tonnes are now MSC certified. North Sea herring, North-East Atlantic mackerel and Atlanto-Scandian herring have already received accreditation, although the mackerel’s special status has been suspended amid the ongoing dispute between the EU and Norway and Faroe and Iceland over stocks.
Only seven per cent of the global fisheries have met MSC’s stringent standards.
The SPSG, which was established in 2007, represents all sides of the pelagic industry, from catching to processing and marketing.
Chairman John Goodlad was on hand to receive the award at the Seafood Scotland stand at the European Seafood Exposition.
Mr Goodlad, who is also chairman of Shetland Catch, said the “final piece in the jigsaw” showed the pelagic sector had travelled “an incredible journey” since the problems surrounding black fish landings were first highlighted seven years ago. Illegal landings were made at the Lerwick processing factory as part of the scandal.
Mr Goodlad insisted the sector had moved on from the “endemic culture” of over-fishing and was now “an exemplar” in sustainable fishing.
“With all the history in the Scottish pelagic sector of over-quota landings, it represents an incredible journey,” he said.
“We have gone well beyond that and with this accreditation are trying to demonstrate our commitment to sustainable fishing.”
Mr Goodlad added: “We are delighted that the whole of Scotland’s herring and mackerel industry has been able to be part of that club.
“The achievement of this certificate has given the pelagic industry a renewed sense confidence because it means we can go forward knowing our fisheries are among the best managed in the world.”
He added the industry “as a whole” had shown a commitment to achieving the prized status since 2005.
“The industry took the decision that, now over-quota fishing was out of the system, that we wanted to go down this route.”
Trawlers fitted with the latest refrigerated seawater tank systems harvest West of Scotland herring along the north coast of Scotland and out to the west of the Hebrides.
The UK is the largest stakeholder in this fishery with 59 per cent, and has a quota of 13,400 tonnes for 2012.
The fishery takes place during the summer months, but mostly in August.
Mr Goodlad added: “SPSG is committed to environmental responsibility and it was within this context that we embarked upon a programme of sustainability all these years ago. The last piece in the sustainability jigsaw has now been secured and the Scottish pelagic industry is today rightly recognised a world leader in environmental responsibility.”
SPSG secretary Ian Gatt said the group would be working hard to ensure the North Sea herring can once again be given the eco-recognition when its accreditation runs out next year.
“Achieving certification for our West of Scotland herring fishery is a significant milestone for the group, which now means all our herring catches can be marketed utilising the MSC eco-label.
“Achieving this standard will also provide a major boost for the marketing of high-quality West of Scotland herring into prime markets. Although this completes the loop in terms of certifying all our main fisheries, the work does not finish here.
“The SPSG North Sea herring MSC certification expires in 2013, and in order to provide a seamless transition, SPSG will shortly be entering this fishery again for re-assessment.”
Claire Pescod of MSC said: “I’m delighted once again to be congratulating SPSG on what is now their third fishery certificate for herring. I’m delighted that the MSC process supports a really strong case for their business in meeting the increasing market demand for certified seafood.
“This phenomenal drive for MSC certification across their herring fisheries typifies the SPSG’s long-standing commitment to demonstrably sustainable fishing.”