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Fishing pressure on the herring exceeded scientific advice by 30%-37% from 2020 to 2022

Atlanto-Scandian herring could take a significant hit to its rate of reproduction as soon as 2026 if current levels of overfishing are allowed to continue, the North Atlantic Pelagic Advocacy Group has warned.

Proprietary research from NAPA, a group of retailers, processors, and supply chain businesses, has determined the timeframe for Atlanto-Scandian herring stocks to reach a critically low threshold under current levels of overfishing.

Named the biomass limit reference point, this threshold defines the danger zone for a stock, the point beyond which its reproduction is at risk. It is a state that should be avoided, NAPA said.

Should Atlanto-Scandian herring reach this level, “that would present politicians, the market and fishing communities with serious problems”, said Neil Auchterlonie, NAPA project lead.

Fishing pressure on the species exceeded scientific advice by 30%-37% from 2020 to 2022.

The International Council for the Exploration of the Sea describes the stock as “slowly decreasing”, and last year set the total allowable catch for 2024 at 390,010 tonnes – a decrease of 24% compared with 2023.

“The buck stops with coastal state governments,” said Auchterlonie. “Their inability to agree on sustainable quota sharing arrangements in line with scientific advice is pushing more than one renowned fish stock into dangerous waters.”

“Atlanto-Scandian herring, along with Northeast Atlantic mackerel and blue whiting, are being fished according to unilateral quotas that are set by individual nations,” he added. “The result? Overfishing.”

According to Auchterlonie, mackerel and blue whiting were likely not far behind herring in reaching the biomass limit reference point level.

In 2021, NAPA launched a three-year policy-based Mackerel and Atlanto-Scandian Herring Fishery Improvement Project and the Blue Whiting MarinTrust FIP in direct response to inadequate management and governance of these stocks.

The self-imposed deadline is on the horizon and retailers have said they will no longer purchase these stocks unless a sustainable sharing agreement can be reached.

“Coastal state governments have failed to act. With the FIPs due to end in a matter of months, we are becoming restless in the absence of a resolution,” said Linda Woods, Marks & Spencer aquaculture & fisheries manager. “We are urging coastal states to act in accordance with their commitment to ‘follow the science’ and reach a sharing agreement as early as possible in 2024.”