Press release

Increased mackerel TACs in NE Atlantic and their effect on MSC certified fisheries

July 16, 2010

The sustainability of NE Atlantic mackerel is at risk as former decision making arrangements controlling the allocation of quota have been undermined. Unless the situation is resolved by the end of 2011, the unilateral quotas and increases in fishing activity will result in suspension of MSC-certification of fisheries committed to harvesting the stock sustainably.


Following a northerly shift in the distribution of the NE Atlantic mackerel stocks into Icelandic waters the number of nations fishing the stock and total catches has increased. From 2005 to 2008, Iceland’s fishery managers increased their mackerel catch from 363 tonnes to 112,286 tonnes (ICES Advice 2009). Iceland has also awarded itself a 130,000 tonne mackerel quota for 2010 (Fish Information & Services report, 16 July 2010). In  2009 this situation was compounded when the Faroe Islands pulled out of the management agreement between EU nations and Norway. While the EU and Norway concluded allocation discussions in January 2010, there is no current agreement controlling the setting of the combined catch of all fishing nations and former allocation arrangements have broken down.

The latest assessment of the stock indicates that if this increased level of fishing activity continues the stock will decline and optimal harvest will not be achieved into the future.

In the latest MSC assessment of the mackerel fishery, the stock is reported as being as healthy but the certifier noted that if the current level of fishing continues into 2012 and beyond, it would pose a significant threat to the long term sustainability of the whole mackerel fishery.

Implication for MSC certified fisheries

There are currently ten fisheries harvesting the NE Atlantic mackerel stock that are in the MSC program. Seven of the fisheries are already certified having demonstrated they meet the MSC international standard for well managed and sustainable fisheries. The MSC standard requires that certified fisheries must be fishing a stock so that future catches are secured into the long-term and that current practices do not jeopardise this. Certifiers must therefore assess the total impact of all fishing activity upon the target stock, not simply the impact of the fishery seeking certification; and be satisfied that there is an effective management system in place for monitoring and coordinating the combined catch of all the relevant fisheries.

With the long term sustainability of the stock identified as being at risk, the continuing certification of the seven fisheries is conditional on the establishment of a mechanism for monitoring and managing the combined catch of all the nations before the end of 2011. Application of the condition on all these fisheries was agreed by the three independent Certifiers involved – if it is not achieved all seven certificates will be suspended in January 2012.

These outcomes would have resulting implications for the three mackerel fisheries under assessment, including the Faroese assessment currently under objection.

The MSC’s position

The MSC supports the efforts of the certified fisheries to ensure the sustainability of the mackerel stock and recognises the hard work they have already undertaken. However, the long-term health of  the northeast Atlantic mackerel stock is a paramount consideration in the assessment process  and its maintenance requires that the total mackerel catch should be set at a level that is sustainable in the long term. To this end, continued certification of these fisheries requires a coordinated setting of Total Allowable Catches, involving all nations. Failure to meet this condition will trigger suspension of the certificates by the certifiers.

The MSC supports the discussions already underway and encourages all the nations and fisheries involved to take expedient action in setting up a management agreement and harmonise catch levels in accordance with the scientific research of the NE Atlantic mackerel stock.

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