MSC: Urgent government action needed to protect vital fish stocks in the North East Atlantic

Concern has been raised as the combined catch of mackerel, herring and blue whiting has exceeded sustainable limits by 4.8million tonnes since 2015.

The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) is calling for urgent action as ecologically and economically vital fish stocks in the North East Atlantic are overexploited due to years of governments’ failure to agree to allocate resources. catch quotas in a way that preserves the future of these stocks. The International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES), which provides scientific advice on sustainable catch levels, has released new data which shows that the combined quotas of mackerel, Atlanto-Scandian herring and blue whiting for 2021 have again been set scientifically above the recommended limits for the year, and respectively 41%, 35% and 25% (1). These limits are set to ensure the long-term viability of these fish stocks and constantly exceeding them puts the health of the ocean, economies and livelihoods at risk.

Analysis of the data by the MSC shows that in the last six years alone, the combined total catches of mackerel, Atlanto-Scandian herring and blue whiting have exceeded sustainable levels by 34%: this represents more than 4, 8 million tonnes of fish which, if scientific advice had been followed, should have been abandoned at sea (2).

Fish stocks can collapse if they are overfished for a long time, as was the case with Atlanto-Scandian herring which collapsed in the 1960s and took 20 years to recover (3). With regard to the data published by ICES, they also indicate a general downward trend for these three pelagic stocks in recent years. The Atlanto-Scandian herring stock in particular has declined by 36% over the past decade (4).

Together, these pelagic fish stocks in the Northeast Atlantic represent one of the largest fish populations in Europe and are fished by some of the wealthiest nations in the world. However, there has not been a quota sharing agreement for mackerel for over a decade, nor for herring since 2012 or for blue whiting since 2014 (5). Instead, these shared natural resources are fished under quotas set unilaterally by individual nations that, when combined, consistently exceed scientifically recommended catch limits for these stocks.

The MSC calls on policy makers from fishing nations in the North East Atlantic to reach a common agreement for the management of these important stocks at the upcoming Coastal States Meetings from 19-27 October 2021 (6). This agreement must be in line with the new scientific advice on 2022 catch levels published by ICES on September 30. Otherwise, he warns, there could be devastating consequences for these iconic species, local ocean biodiversity and the fishing communities that depend on them.
Erin Priddle, Regional Director, Northern Europe, said: “Fish populations span many international fishing grounds and as such quota sharing agreements between key political actors are essential to ensure that there are enough fish left in the sea so that stocks can recover. . Climate change only makes this task all the more urgent, with stocks shifting in response to warming oceans. We therefore urge fishing nations to put aside their national interests and commit to taking sustainable management measures for these stocks at the next meeting of Coastal States.”

“Sustainable and well-managed fisheries not only preserve ocean biodiversity, but are also more resilient to climate change, providing greater economic certainty. Although individual fisheries have a role to play, international cooperation is essential to ensure adequate protection of these stocks. Governments have a responsibility, on behalf of the public, to protect our oceans for present and future generations.

This call is supported by major retailers and seafood brands. In an open letter to ministers from coastal states, sent on September 27, a collective of more than 40 retailers, catering companies and suppliers, including Tesco, Aldi , Princes, Youngs, Co-op and Sainsbury’s, called for concrete actions to ensure long-term management strategies for these species. Many signatories said they would reassess their procurement policies if the current unsustainable situation


1. Calculated on the basis of new data published by ICES on September 30, 2021 for:

2. Between 2015 and 2020, actual catch totals exceeded ICES scientifically recommended catch levels by 4,781,470 million tonnes, i.e. 988,875 tonnes for herring, 1,584,574 for mackerel and 2,208,021 for blue whiting (MSC calculation based on six years (2015 – 2020) of ICES advised catches and actual catches).

3. Researchgate: The Collapse of the Atlanto-Scandian Herring Fishery: Effects on the Icelandic Economy

4. ICES advice on fishing opportunities, catches and fishing effort in the Northeast Atlantic and Arctic Ocean ecoregions Published 30 September 2021: Herring (Clupea harengus) in the sub -areas 1, 2 and 5, and in divisions 4.a and 14.a, Norwegian spring spawning: herring spawning stock biomass in 2021 (3,765,000 tonnes) is now only 64% of what it was in 2011 (5,883,000 tonnes). This is a drop of 36% in ten years.

5. The European Commission (05/11/2020) 6. Coastal States Meetings of the North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission

Previous Intense rains kill carp fish stock in Dab Ganderbal -
Next Forget cultured meat, here's lab-grown fish!