Press release

SPSG West of Scotland herring MSC certificate suspended

February 16, 2016

Updated 19 February 2016

The certifier for the Scottish Pelagic Sustainability Group (SPSG) West of Scotland herring fishery has suspended the fishery’s MSC certification following new advice on stock status.

The suspension follows a recognition by ICES, the intergovernmental scientific organisation responsible for monitoring fish stocks, that they were unable to provide two separate stock assessments for the two stocks during the recent benchmarking exercise. Therefore the assessment of the two stocks had to be combined.

The combined assessment shows the stocks are below sustainable levels and therefore no longer meets the MSC’s requirements for a sustainable fish stock. SPSG West of Scotland herring caught after midnight on Friday 12th February 2016 cannot be labelled as MSC certified. The SPSG now has 90 days to prepare an action plan to address the conditions that relate to addressing issues around harvest strategy and control rules. In order to prevent the certificate from being withdrawn.

Fishermen not at fault

Claire Pescod, Fisheries Outreach Manager for the MSC explained: “MSC certification has to take account of developments and improvements in fisheries science. Scientific advice is based on available data and can recommend an increase in quotas or a decrease, dependent on the state of the stocks. In this case, the Scottish fishermen will have their certificate suspended through no direct fault of their own but as a result of the new science advice. Hopefully, the issues around this herring fishery suspension can be addressed and the certificate can be reinstated.” 

Ian Gatt, from the Scottish Pelagic Sustainability Group commented: “Scottish pelagic fishermen have built a strong history of fishing sustainably with a wide range of MSC certified catches. The suspension of this certificate is a blow, however, we’re working hard to resolve the situation by collecting additional scientific data and addressing the issue.”  

Further information

ICES, the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea  recognise that the West of Scotland and West of Ireland herring stocks are separate stocks and that management of the stocks should continue to be separate. It was unable to provide two separate stock assessments for the two stocks during the recent benchmarking exercise (in 2015) so the assessment of the two stocks had to be combined. This happened because the ICES benchmark process hoped to be able to separate the two stocks in the single fisheries-independent acoustic survey carried out in the summer that catches both stocks. Unfortunately, the data available did not enable separation so single stock assessments per stock were not able to be performed.

Following the decision, certifier Acoura Marine carried out an expedited audit of the SPSG West of Scotland herring fishery to incorporate the new scientific advice. This resulted in several performance indicators falling below the 60 mark triggering the suspension. 

The next fishing season starts in August 2016. 

> Read the full ICES report

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