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MSC certificates suspended for all North East Atlantic mackerel fisheries

The MSC certification for all North East Atlantic mackerel fisheries will be suspended on Saturday 2nd March 2019. This was announced today through the release of an expedited audit report for all North East Atlantic mackerel fisheries in the MSC program. Mackerel caught on or after 2nd March 2019 cannot be sold as ‘MSC certified' or bear the blue MSC label. The suspension affects all 4 certificates, for fisheries across 8 countries

The suspension comes after the mackerel stock in the northeast Atlantic dropped below a precautionary threshold level, while catches remain far higher than advised by scientists. The drop in stock triggered an expedited audit by the independent certifiers in November 2018 and the report from that audit was published today.

Camiel Derichs, Europe Director for the MSC explains: "This news will be a disappointment for the fishermen as well as for mackerel loving consumers. However, factors including declining stocks, quotas set above new scientific advice and poor recruitment have combined to mean that the fisheries no longer meet the MSC’s requirements. That said, I am confident that the fisheries and other stakeholders involved will deliver a plan to improve the situation. There is already work underway to review the way mackerel stocks are assessed. The fisheries have confirmed that they will work with management authorities to, as appropriate, adopt measures enabling recovery of the stock. If successful, that may enable reinstatement of the MSC certificates by the certification bodies." 

Falling stocks

Based on the best scientific evidence available, the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) advises that the mackerel stock has been falling steadily since 2011, when it had reached a high of 4.79 million tonnes. In recent years, high fishing pressure has combined with several years of poor recruitment (see notes) to reduce the stock. As a result, in September 2018, ICES warned that the stock had dropped below 2.75 million tonnes, the point at which it is considered necessary to take action in order to allow stocks to recover (MSY Btrigger – see notes).

ICES has recommended a significantly reduced catch of 318,403 tonnes, which represents a 68.2% cut in current catches to restore the stock to a sustainable level. Short-term projections suggest that catches in line with the ICES advice would recover the stock above the sustainable level by 2020-2021. Maintaining the current level of catches will result in the stock dropping the point where recruitment is impaired in 2020.

Potential changes in future scientific advice

While the expedited audit was taking place, ICES initiated a benchmark assessment for the mackerel stock. This is expected to deliver more insight in the stock status of mackerel in spring 2019. ICES initiated this work to review, and if needed address, uncertainties in the current stock assessment for mackerel. One possible outcome of that scientific work could be that the estimate of the stock size shifts above the MSY Btrigger point. If this happens, the certifiers will likely conduct a second expedited audit in spring, to assess the impact of that new estimate on the fisheries’ performance

against the MSC Fisheries Standard. This could be a basis for a reinstatement of the certificates for mackerel fisheries. However, it will not solve the ongoing challenges on sharing the stock or fishing above the scientific advice would still apply. The fisheries have existing conditions as part of their MSC certificates to deliver improvements in the management for mackerel. There is an ongoing need for coastal states to set quotas and management measures in line with scientific advice.

Fisheries affected

The fisheries affected are:


Fish stocks (or Spawning Stock Biomass) measures the mass of the adults in a population of fish. It does not count juvenile fish. Recruitment is the process of juvenile fish maturing into adults and joining the adult population – where they can also breed. Poor recruitment years can be caused by a variety of factors including fewer eggs or a smaller proportion of juvenile fish reaching maturity – e.g. through food scarcity, disease or predation.

MSY Btrigger

ICES defines MSY Btrigger as “Value of spawning stock biomass (SSB) that triggers a specific management action”. To explain: Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY) – or sustainable – stock level tends to be a band, rather than a single point and MSY Btrigger is the lower boundary of the band. It is often regarded as a precautionary limit. ICES uses MSY Btrigger as a point where falling stock levels should trigger rebuilding response by fishery managers. Usually this would be a strong reduction in catch or suspending fishing entirely to allow for stock recovery.

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