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Major brands look to South America as European governments put health of fish stocks at risk

Political talks continue on mackerel, herring and blue whiting

Major retailers and manufacturers in Europe have started to source sustainable jack mackerel from Chile due to the continued overexploitation of mackerel stocks in the North East Atlantic.

A failure to agree a sustainable allocation of catch quotas among European fishing nations1 has led to an overexploitation of North East Atlantic mackerel by up to 40 percent each year and to the suspension of the fisheries from the Marine Stewardship Council’s (MSC) programme for sustainable fishing in 2019.  As a result, some European brands are now looking to South America for MSC certified sustainable mackerel to meet consumer demand for sustainable seafood.

Major German seafood brand Followfood is about to launch canned Chilean 'Jack Makrele' in Germany. Leading retailers Migros in Switzerland, Delhaize in Belgium and Albert Heijn in Holland have all also recently started to sell Chilean jack mackerel as a sustainable alternative to North East Atlantic mackerel2.

European market looking for sustainable alternatives

Julius Palm, responsible for Strategy & Brand at Followfood, a leader in sustainability in Germany, said: "We consistently and uncompromisingly focus on sustainability in our seafood products. For us, the blue MSC label is the most important basis for our fisheries sourcing directives. European mackerel fisheries in the North East Atlantic are poorly managed and have therefore lost the MSC label. This means they are no longer suitable for us. We are happy to have found a sustainable alternative with Chilean jack mackerel,"

Belgian manufacturer Charlier-Brabo Group (CBG), owner of First State seafood brand and supplier for Fish Tales, states that the loss of MSC certification for North East Atlantic fisheries has disrupted the retail seafood landscape. CBG´s Category Manager Fish and Meat, Raf de Smet, said: “Non MSC-certified North-East Atlantic mackerel has not been completely removed from product ranges. Unfortunately, this has sent the wrong signal to consumers. CBG, meanwhile, invested in MSC-certified jack mackerel from Chile. We hope that this worthy alternative will find wider uptake in European markets. We support the clear message that MSC certification is a must!"

MSC calling for decisive action from governments

The MSC, an international non-profit organization working to conserve healthy fish stocks worldwide, is meanwhile calling for decisive action on quotas from governments at their upcoming negotiations in May.

Erin Priddle, MSC Program Director for Northern Europe, said: "Fisheries can make an enormous effort to improve their sustainability - but if the political framework is lacking, this effort is often not enough. Species like mackerel, with a large and shifting distribution, present unique challenges to multi-state fisheries, as stocks move in and out of management zones.  Such stocks cannot be managed on the basis of national interests - they need international agreements and a transnational management along scientific guidelines. It is imperative that the pelagic stocks in the North East Atlantic are protected for this, and future, generations.

What is South America doing better than Europe?

Unlike North East Atlantic mackerel, Chilean jack mackerel is sustainably managed and fished: The 15 nations catching Chilean jack mackerel in the South Pacific Ocean, have been able to agree on a sustainable catch quota allocation. Their mackerel stock has a healthy stock size and, importantly, their total catch amount is in line with scientific advice. For Chilean fishermen, it is gratifying that their sustainability efforts are paying off, not only ecologically but also economically with a new market emerging in Europe. Europe's mackerel fishermen, on the other hand, are in a tight spot: The sustainability of their fisheries as well as important parts of their market are at stake as long as politicians fail to reach an agreement.


Notes to editors

The next international negotiations on quotas for North-East Atlantic mackerel will take place from 11th to 13th May 2022.

1 The European Union, Norway, Iceland, Faroe Islands, the United Kingdom, Russia and Greenland have so far been unable to reach an agreement on a sustainable allocation of catch quotas for mackerel, blue whiting and Atlanto-Scandian herring in the North East Atlantic. Instead, the individual states have been setting separate quotas that, when combined, significantly exceed the sustainable limits advised by the International Council for Exploration of the Seas (ICES). In 2021, total quotas for these three species were set at 41%, 35% and 25% respectively above sustainable limits. All fisheries had lost their MSC-certificates in 2019 (mackerel) and 2020 (AS herring, blue whiting).

2 Jack mackerel products can be found on shelves at leading European retailers like Migros (own brand M-Classic “MSC Makrelenfilets”), Delhaize (First State “Jack Mackerel”) or Albert Heijn (FishTales “Hors Makreel in Olie”). Though total volumes imported to Europe are still relatively small, they are currently growing and there is potential for further growth in the future. Chilean jack mackerel fisheries became MSC certified in 2019 and 2020. Their total annual catch is at 600,000 tonnes. Jack mackerel is very similar to North-East Atlantic mackerel in taste and consistency, as well as in Omega-3 saturation.

Images are available on request from [email protected].

MSC North-East Atlantic Pelagics quota factsheet April 2022
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