Mackerel Downgraded From Fish To Eat List

As debacles go this one really has all the hallmarks of a textbook omnishambles. It’s now been three years since Iceland and the Faroe Islands decided to allocate themselves a much higher proportion of the North Eastern Atlantic mackerel quota than had been agreed. With the EU refusing to budge on its allocation the stock is now being fished at unsustainably high levels and the Marine Conservation Society has now decided to downgraded it from its Fish To Eat list, based on scientific advice provided by ICES (see post from Jan 5th).

This comes after the Marine Stewardship Council suspended its accreditation of the fishery last year due to the unsustainable levels of fishing pressure. Now even Mr Hugh ‘Fish Fight’ Fearnley-Whittingstall himself has had to do a u-turn on his mackerel baps as a sustainable alternative to cod or haddock in your local chippie only two years after the initiative was launched.

Despite 12 rounds of negotiations by politicians a solution to the stand-off is still nowhere in sight. Trade sanctions have been threatened against Iceland and the Faroes with the EU proposing banning Icelandic vessels from docking in UK ports. However, as thousands of jobs in the UK’s fish processing industry are reliant on fish landed from these vessels so this could hurt us more than it hurts them.

Especially when you consider that the suspension of the MSC accreditation is hardly a threat when Iceland and the Faroese are free to sell their mackerel to Russia and other non EU counties who might not give a hoot whether they’ve been MSC certified or not. The result being that the UK losses jobs and the mackerel stock continues to be fished above safe biological limits.

It doesn’t seem unreasonable to me for the “offenders” in this scenario to request a renegotiation of the quota allocation now that the mackerel distribution has shifted north into their waters. Excuse the pun, but this is a fluid situation and if rising sea temperatures are to blame then the UK could conceivably start to see significant numbers of tuna or other Southern European species heading North into UK waters in years to come. In such a scenario don’t tell me that the UK fleet wouldn’t start banging their drums for access to these stocks with a renegotiation of the quota allocation.

Yet again politics and scientific advice are colliding and bouncing off each other rather than meshing together in a sensible and sustainable way. In the mean time the fish stocks suffer and probably the best example of a European fishery being managed sustainably falls apart in front of our eyes. There’s still so much we don’t understand about the marine environment, fish species and interactions and the effects of rising sea temperatures that I suggest you get ready for much more of these sorts of disputes in the future.

In the mean time we are being encouraged to only buy line-caught mackerel from sustainable sources. As an angler I disagree, the most sustainable way to put a fish on your plate is still to pick up a fishing rod and get out there yourself; no bycatch, no discards and no seabed or habitat damage.