The North East Atlantic mackerel stock has grown bigger despite concerns about overfishing by Iceland and the Faroe Islands, the European Union’s fisheries advisory body has admitted.
The International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) this week said the stock had been growing even though Iceland and the Faroes had been catching more mackerel than ICES had previously advised would be safe for the stock’s health.
As a result, ICES is now recommending the total mackerel catch for 2014 should stand at 889,886 tonnes – a staggering 64% more than it deemed safe for 2013.
“All indications are that the mackerel stock has increased in recent years despite catches being in excess of those advised by ICES”
John Simmonds, ICES
In terms of actual volumes caught, the 2014 allowance works out as roughly the same as the mackerel volumes caught in 2013, as Iceland and the Faroes decided to ignore ICES advice and catch more than recommended. They argued the stock was in better health than the EU suggested, and that the mackerel had been migrating north into their waters, making them fair game for fishing by Iceland and the Faroes.
The EU disputes this and has threatened trade sanctions, but ICES’ latest stock data and catch recommendations for 2014 seem to lend weight to Iceland and the Faroes’ position. “All indications are that the mackerel stock has increased in recent years despite catches being in excess of those advised by ICES,” said ICES advisory committee vice-chair John Simmonds.
Technical problems with data that ICES had previously used had had a greater impact on its modelling of the stock than it had appreciated, added Simmonds. “The consequences have been that we’ve underestimated the [stock] size.” ICES was now developing alternative modelling techniques to better take account of the data issues, he added.
ICES also acknowledged that data from recent years indicated mackerel stocks had indeed expanded north-westwards to spawn and for the summer feeding migration. “This change in distribution likely reflects an increased stock size coupled with changes in the physical environment and in the zooplankton concentration and distribution,” it said in a statement.
‘Very good news’
ICES’ announcements were welcomed by Iceland and the Faroes. Iceland’s chief negotiator for mackerel catch quotas, Sigurgeir Þorgeirsson, described it as “very good news”, adding “the advice for total allowable catch 2014 issued by ICES recognises the fact that a massive amount of mackerel inhabit the Northeast Atlantic, including in Iceland’s waters”.
“Consumers can continue to eat Scottish mackerel safe in the knowledge that the fish are abundant in the sea and being sustainably caught by our fishermen”
Meanwhile, Faroese government fisheries minister Jacob Vestergaard told The Grocer: “The Faroese government completely respects and trusts ICES to give advice on the total allowable catch. As well as this, the Faroese government highly values the information and the advice given by ICES.”
The EU said it took note of ICES advice and would consider it carefully.
News that the mackerel stock is bigger than ICES previously thought has also been welcomed by Scottish fishermen. “The scientific advice confirms what Scottish fishermen have repeatedly been saying: that the stock remains in good health and that consumers can continue to eat Scottish mackerel safe in the knowledge that the fish are abundant in the sea and being sustainably caught by our fishermen,” said Ian Gatt, chief executive of the Scottish Pelagic Fishermen’s Association.