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New report urges urgent and comprehensive new approach to secure quota sharing for North East Atlantic pelagics

Coastal State governments need to urgently adopt a comprehensive new approach to reach an agreement on quota sharing for key north east Atlantic pelagic fish stocks, a new report commissioned by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) has found. 

The report, North-East Atlantic Pelagic Fisheries – Management Challenges for Straddling Fish Stocks by marine consultancy ABPmer – released today, says that years of broken agreements on quota sharing for blue whiting, herring and mackerel has resulted in quotas being set above sustainable limits, threatening the long term health of these vital fish stocks. 

The report suggests, however, that agreement on sustainable catches, that reflects scientific advice, is possible if the mechanisms for agreeing quotas are reformed. The recommendations set out in the report would prevent states from being able to walk away from reaching agreements that could secure the long term future of fish stocks and the ecosystems and economies that rely on them. 

The report recommends majority voting, rather than consensus decision-making. Backed up by independent objection procedures and dispute resolution mechanisms this approach could enable agreements to be made and adjusted without a complete breakdown of negotiations.  

The report highlights the Chilean jack mackerel fishery, which is MSC certified, as an example where majority voting and dispute resolutions have enabled agreements to be made and issues of concern challenged, without the complete breakdown of agreements. Unlike North East Atlantic (NEA) 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 through an international fisheries management framework that is upheld by all nation states accessing the stock. 

Widening the scope of negotiations to include other fisheries, access to fishing areas, landing ports, and wider issues such as trade and security arrangements, could also help to reduce the chances of a breakdown in negotiations.  This follows the approach taken by the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) that includes fisheries, trade, transportation, aviation and more. 

The report was launched during the NEA Pelagic Stakeholder Symposium, hosted by the MSC at Waterman’s Hall, London on 21st June 2023. The symposium bought together expertise across a range of disciplines, including science, management, and market actors to find new and creative ways to advance discussions on quota sharing solutions, as well as wider management considerations, in the context of the North East Atlantic pelagic fish stocks.  

The MSC has urged the Coastal State governments to address the current lack of agreement on how to manage these shared fish stocks since the loss of their MSC certification in 2019 and 2020. These calls have been supported by retailers and seafood brands who have committed to sustainable sourcing, including from MSC certified fisheries.  

Over 100 stakeholders across different disciplines participated in the event. Outcomes of the event will be released to build momentum in advance of the autumn negotiating period. 

Erin Priddle, Regional Director for the Marine Stewardship Council in North Europe, said: 

“Time is running out to ensure these ecologically and economically important pelagic stocks are sustainable for future generations. However, a solution is within reach. It now just needs the political will of the representative governments to put in place a new more resilient solution. The recommendations outlined in this new report would ensure an outcome that delivers a quota sharing arrangement for all three stocks in line with scientific advice.  

“By taking a bold step to agree a new way of agreeing how to sustainably manage these stocks, coastal states can demonstrate global leadership in sustainable fishing. The long term benefits of an agreement could be huge in relation to food security, economies and ecosystems.” 
Suzannah Walmsley, fisheries expert at ABPmer and author of the report said: 

“The NEA pelagic fisheries benefit from world-leading science, coastal states that agree to follow scientific advice, and good compliance and enforcement of quota limits. What is missing is quota sharing agreements to ensure that catches remain within sustainable limits. Sustainable management is within reach, and with political will and compromise, a comprehensive agreement on management and quota sharing can be achieved that is resilient to future changes in both ecosystems and politics.  

“The North East Atlantic coastal and fishing states have a unique opportunity to demonstrate that they are globally at the forefront of fisheries sustainability and help to ensure the future productivity of these important fish stocks, maintaining the food security and economic benefits that they provide.”