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Consumers warned to cut back on mackerel

For 2013, the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) has recommendated a maximum catch of 542,000 tonnes.

THE Marine Conservation Society’s decision to remove mackerel from the list of fish recommended as ‘suitable to eat’ could be hugely damaging to the pelagic fleet, according to northern isles MP Alistair Carmichael.

Describing the move as “premature”, he said it came as no surprise after Iceland and Faroe unilaterally increased their mackerel quotas over the past three years, sparking an international row.

The MCS has taken the step in response to the serious overfishing of the stock, which has come as a result.

Scientists recommend one third of the stock of around 1.5 million tonnes of mackerel in the north east Atlantic could be safely caught, but the current stand off looks set to see almost half the stock being taken.

Norway and the EU accuse the Scandinavian island states of tearing up long standing international agreements, while Iceland and Faroe claim the species now spends more time in their national waters after changes in migrating patterns.

Mackerel is the most valuable fish for the Scottish fishing industry, and seven of more than 20 large trawlers chasing the fish are based in Shetland.

In the absence of an international agreement, the EU and Norway last week agreed a 15 per cent quota cut for 2013 to just below 500,000 tonnes, or 90 per cent of the scientific recommendation.

With Iceland and Faroe expected to grant its fleets allocations in the region of 200,000 tonnes, mackerel will again be overfished in 2013.

The MCS has already removed its hard win eco-label from the fishery, and has now taken the next step of advising people to only eat mackerel “occasionally” as it was not sustainably fished.

Carmichael said on Tuesday the row could have a serious impact on the whole pelagic fleet.

“I believe that the MCS is premature in taking this step but I am not particularly surprised that they have done it. The fishing industry in this country has been warning Iceland and the Faroese that their catches are too large since 2009.

“If they do not now act then eventually stock levels will become critical and the fishing industry as a whole will suffer enormously in the eyes of the public. That would be unfair, in my view, but it is the reality of the situation.

“This decision by the MCS should be a wake-up call for them. It is time to stop the grandstanding and to get back to the negotiating table.”