Fishing boat

Retailers in North Atlantic Pelagic Advocacy Group (NAPA) could review sourcing if deal not reached

A group of about 50 retailers, including Asda, M&S and Tesco, have warned governments around the North East Atlantic of possible boycotts unless they agree to “sustainable” catches of blue whiting, herring and mackerel “in line with the scientific advice for each stock”.

Members of the North Atlantic Pelagic Advocacy Group (NAPA) a coalition of foodservice operators, retailers and suppliers, wrote to ministers this week, demanding they looked beyond “national interests” ahead of talks next month on sharing catches. They urged them to stick to limits proposed last September by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES).

But NAPA said it was worried “some coastal states” had “already set quotas for 2022 for some or all of these fisheries in advance of the sharing discussions”, in apparent defiance of promises made during discussions last October to “to stick to scientific limits in 2022”.

“We understand that sharing discussions are due to resume next month and we urge all parties to work constructively and prioritise resolving the allocation issues around these stocks to ensure that the overall catch for each stock does not exceed scientific advice,” said Tom Pickerell, the project lead for NAPA, which was set up in 2020 as a “market-led” response to concerns about overfishing in the North East Atlantic.

According to Pickerell, almost all the North Atlantic herring quota, and about half the blue whiting, goes through NAPA members.

“We have a very vested interest in these fisheries being managed sustainably,” he said.

But government “inaction” was “driving the supply chain to rethink their purchasing decisions”, NAPA said, with some of its members warning of “negative business impacts” if they sourced fish from countries in breach of commitments to keep catches within ICES-recommended limits.

“The market is stepping up to say ‘enough is enough, we’re the ones who will get the flak, we’re the ones who made these public commitments, and we’re now engaging directly to say ’sort this out’,” Pickerell said. 

Consumers have increasingly pushed retailers into making sure they do not contribute to overfishing. According to the Marine Stewardship Council, sales of sustainable seafood increased by 6% in 2020/21.

However, the NGO said in October that “the combined quotas of coastal nations for mackerel, herring and blue whiting” had been set “above scientifically advised limits for the year – by 41%, 35% and 25% respectively”.

According to the MSC, “there has been no quota sharing agreement for mackerel for over a decade, nor for herring since 2012 or for blue whiting since 2014”.

The MSC suspended the certification status of eight fisheries in late 2020 over what it said was “the failure of states to reach quota-sharing agreements and fish within the scientifically advised limits”.