At a meeting last week in London, delegations from the European Union, the Faroe Islands, Greenland, Iceland, Norway, the Russian Federation and the United Kingdom agreed on management measures for mackerel, blue whiting and Atlanto-Scandian herring in the Northeast Atlantic Ocean for 2022. All three stocks of fish have a total allowable catch (TAC) for 2022 set according to scientific advice from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES). Only how it will be distributed among the countries that are allowed to fish there is not yet certain.
It is quite uncommon for retailers to speak out to negotiators about sustainable fishing. These companies apparently see the risk of the lack of catch agreements
Exceeding catch limits
For more than a decade, states that fish in the Northeast Atlantic have failed to make catch agreements consistent with sustainable limits set by scientists. The result is a decline in the populations of mackerel, herring and blue whiting. In total, since 2015 catches have reached sustainable limits with 4.8 million tonnes exceeded. This year alone, quotas for mackerel, Atlanto-Scandinavian herring and blue whiting in the Northeast Atlantic over the scientifically advised limits set at 41%, 35% and 25% respectively. Fortunately, the stocks of fish are still reasonable, despite the fact that fishermen are catching far more than is safe according to scientific experts.
This has resulted in all three fisheries losing their sustainable certification from the Marine Stewardship Council. Now not only the British fish processor Youngs is calling for sustainable fishing, but also supermarket chains like Tesco, Co-op, Aldi, Marks & Spencer and fishmeal giants Skretting and Cargill made their voices heard. It is quite uncommon for retailers to speak out to negotiators about sustainable fishing. These companies apparently see the risk of the lack of catch agreements.
Due to climate change, there are now more fish swimming in Iceland, the Faroe Islands and Norway. Those countries believe that they can now have a larger share of the total quota, because there are more fish in their waters
Who can fish where?
The Northeast Atlantic Ocean covers the entire sea area from Iceland to the western side of Norway, Ireland and Portugal. There, mainly fish swim in large schools: mackerel, herring and blue whiting. The fish do not adhere to land or sea borders: mackerel migrate every year from Iceland to Morocco. The annual quota is the basis of a fixed distribution key among the countries that have fishing rights. This is called ‘relative stability’. The distribution was established in the 1970s when quotas were introduced. For example, Dutch fishermen have quite a lot of fishing rights for mackerel, although these are hardly found in the North Sea anymore. It doesn’t matter: they are also allowed to fish the fish on the west side of Ireland.
In recent years, climate change has led to shifts in the distribution of fish populations. As a result, there are now more fish swimming in Iceland, the Faroe Islands and Norway. Those countries believe that they can now have a larger share of the total quota, because there are more fish in their waters. They therefore gave themselves a higher quota than they were entitled to according to the old distribution formula.
There is now a algemene TAC (Total Allowable Catch) agreed, but the distribution of the catch remains unresolved. The countries that currently benefit from the old division (especially countries of the European Union) are not prepared to give up their historic rights. The distribution has been unchanged for more than thirty years, but it is no longer in line with reality. It is clear that this ‘relative stability’ must be abandoned. But no one knows yet what the alternative should be.
At the beginning of 2022, the countries will meet again. Then we’ll see if the threat from Youngs and the supermarkets really takes effect. After all, the most difficult task, which is to redistribute the pie, has yet to be done. And that hasn’t happened for over ten years. Yet it is crucial that the countries of the Northeast Atlantic show that they can make long-term management agreements. Because if they can’t, who are they to force the rest of the world into better fisheries management?
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Go sustainable fishing! – Retailers enforce better standards – Foodlog