On 1st July, Sainsbury’s, Marks & Spencer and The Co-Op announced they were withdrawing Scottish mackerel from their shelves after its Marine Stewardship Council certification was suspended.
For the past two years, overfishing by Iceland and Faroe Islands has resulted in mackerel fishing quotas in the northeast Atlantic being breached by 25%, and more recently both Iceland and the Faroe Islands have moved to introduce large quota increases.
“I just want retailers to understand the MSC suspension in context” – Ian Gatt
Mackerel is the most valuable fish landed in Scotland and was worth £164m in 2011. The Scottish fishing industry’s share of northeast Atlantic mackerel is about 20% of its total worth. “The stocks are still high enough for supermarkets to put Scottish mackerel on their shelves”, says Ian Gatt, CEO of the Scottish Pelagic Fishermen’s Association. “It’s not a black and white picture. Scientists recommend an optimum of 2.4 million tonnes of spawning stock and currently mackerel are at 3 million.
Of course if quotas continue to be exceeded, in 2015 we would probably start to see a decline in stocks.”
A meeting with supermarkets is to be held later in the summer to present them with all the information. “I won’t be doing a hard sell”, says Gatt. “I just want retailers to understand the MSC suspension in context. Scottish fishermen have complied with all the MSC’s conditions and while I can understand why certification has been withdrawn, it is unfair to penalise Scottish fishermen for a problem they did not cause.”
Gatt acknowledges that the MSC are sympathetic, and that when they granted Scottish fishermen certification they didn’t foresee how problematic ‘straddling stocks’ – where fish migrate through different territories – could be. “If the general public understood the wider issues I think they would be very sympathetic too.”
Straddling stocks are stocks of fish, which migrate between, or occur in both, the economic exclusive zone (EEZ) of one or more countries and the ‘high seas’ (i.e. international waters). The United Nations’ information system on oceans reports that there have been problems in most of the areas around the world where straddling stocks exist in ‘commercially attractive quantities.’
“Co-decision making between the European Parliament and the Council on fisheries policy is possible” – Pat the Cope Gallagher MEP
Earlier this month the European Council, European Parliament and Danish Presidency reached an agreement to introduce sanctions against unsustainable fishing practices. It allows for the European Union to take action against third countries with whom they share fish resources. Actions will include trade sanctions such as restricting imports of fish into the EU and may also include restricting access to ports or a ban on the sale of fishing vessels, equipment and supplies to the accused country.
Irish MEP Pat the Cope Gallagher stated that the agreement highlighted how co-decision making between the European Parliament and the Council on fisheries policy is possible. “[This] is a positive sign ahead of the negotiations later this year on the reform of the Common Fisheries Policy”.
“Gatt is relying on the EU Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki to implement sanctions in the autumn”
Many fisheries organisations are hoping that this ruling will be put into practice against Iceland and the Faroe Islands in relation to the ongoing mackerel dispute. The Scottish Pelagic Fishermen’s Association has been calling for these measures for a long time. Ongoing negotiations with Iceland and the Faroe Islands have not borne fruit and Gatt is relying on the EU Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki to implement sanctions in the autumn.