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Marine / Flawed science led MSC decision to drop mackerel

Suspension from approval scheme should not hurt industry

SHETLAND fishermen have rebutted scientific advice that led to a reduction in the 2019 mackerel catch and a suspension of the fish from the Marine Stewardship Council’s label of approval.

Shetland Fishermen’s Association executive officer Simon Collins said that the massive investment by local fishermen in new vessels was a far more accurate indicator of mackerel stock health than science so leery that even the European Commission had treated it with caution.

Collins said that talks with fishermen, European officials and scientists themselves suggested the latest methodology employed by the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES) was widely recognised as profoundly flawed.

The Commission, no friend of the fishing industry, had been drawn to reduce an ICES indicative figure for a mackerel total allowable catch cut of over 40 per cent to 20 per cent.

Collins said: “We are not happy with this situation – it’s absurd. The industry would not be investing so heavily if they did not see masses of fish in the sea.”

“We are confident this is a temporary situation but this raises a serious question around the science of mackerel”.

The Research, delivered in October, is the latest completed pelagic trawler. Photos: Ivan Reid

Fishermen, he said, were seeing huge marks of mackerel in the sea, whereas scientists receive a very blinkered picture of what was the situation on the grounds.

He said that the latest scientific error was just the latest in a string of instances where the assessments on fish stocks – notable instances included saithe and haddock – had been reversed and quotas greatly increased after a year or two of stinging cuts.

But the MSC has suspended all mackerel from its blue label programme – supposedly a guide to the public about what fish are sustainably caught.

A statement on its website said: “Mackerel caught on or after 2 March 2019 cannot be sold as MSC certified or bear the blue MSC label as all mackerel fisheries are currently suspended from our program. You may still find MSC labelled mackerel in shops as previously certified product is already in the supply chain.”

Collins said the he expected this also to be a temporary measure until the mackerel science had been reviewed. He did not think the MSC’s decision would have much effect on the markets for Shetland caught fish which were more interested in fish quality.

And he said that the flawed science that informed the actions of a private company (the MSC) was reality checked by the hard commercial decisions of the fishing fleet.

Orkney and Shetland MP Alistair Carmichael said the controversial deal that allowed Faroese vessels to catch 30 per cent of their quota in UK waters should be reopened.

He said that the MSC’s “sustainable status” decision was based on what the organisation said was “years of overfishing” which have driven stocks “to the brink of collapse”.

According to figures quoted by Carmichael, the mackerel stock has fallen from 4.79 million tonnes in 2011 to 2.75 million tonnes last year.

Carmichael added: “This worrying move by the MSC should be a wake-up call for the EU Commission and the UK Government to re-open the deal on mackerel with the Faroese. That deal allows the Faroese fishing fleet to take 30 per cent of their quota from UK waters. It is no longer a sustainable deal.

“Mackerel is an important stock for our pelagic industry so the loss of sustainable status will be disappointing for the local economy.

“It may be recoverable in early course but that is not really the point.  Fishermen have been saying for years that the deal was not sustainable. That can no longer be denied.”