The Marine Conservation Society (MCS), whose annual Good Fish Guide made headlines last year when it removed some Scottish crab and lobster stocks from its ‘recommended’ list, due to possible interactions with cetaceans, published its 2023 update last week. For the first time, the MCS has removed mackerel from its list of recommended species.

Mackerel is one of 20 new ‘species to avoid’, the NGO said.

The decision on mackerel was based on the inability of the countries participating in the fishery to agree sustainable quotas for a species that is key prey for cetaceans and tuna. The downgrade, however, does not apply to line-caught mackerel, even though it is fished from the same stock – but that exemption only applies to South West handline catches!

The MCS seems unaware, or unwilling to talk about, the handline fishery that operates so successfully in North East Scotland and Shetland, which is by default lumped into the ‘avoid’ recommendation.

Ian Gatt of the Scottish Pelagic Fishermen’s Association said: “The MCS have chosen one matrix to say the stock is overfished, which is fishing pressure, but they completely ignored the fact that the stock biomass is 46% higher than ICES scientists’ assessment of maximum sustainable yield.

“This begs the question why the MCS chose to do this – they are either incompetent and don’t have a robust methodology for their assessments, or they are working to an agenda that Scottish fishing is unsustainable

“Against this background, the MCS have also managed to make a differential for the handline mackerel fishery in the South West, which is good for those involved in the fishery. We have been asking the MCS to make the same differential for the Scottish fishery, but they have refused to do so.”

The message about mackerel was widely reported by the mainstream media – which is unsurprising, given that out of the 20 new ‘avoid’ classifications, it was the only one mentioned by name in the MCS press release.

Bad news is clearly perceived as an easier sell in obtaining coverage in the mainstream media – the press release made no mention of the 15 potential good-news stories of fisheries uprated to ‘best choice’.

The only positive news in the press release was in the final two lines, when it mentions that North Sea herring remains a ‘best choice’ option that consumers should seek out and enjoy.

This story was taken from the latest issue of Fishing News. For more up-to-date and in-depth reports on the UK and Irish commercial fishing sector, subscribe to Fishing News here or buy the latest single issue for just £3.30 here

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