Whilst scientists from member states of the North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission (NEAFC) continue to gather and share data on the distribution of three key shared pelagic stocks – Atlanto- Scandian herring, mackerel and blue whiting – a vocal association of large fish-buying companies, with an annual spend of around €800m on the three species concerned, has renewed calls for ministers to agree binding and sustainable TACs for the species for 2022.

The North Atlantic Pelagic Advocacy Group (NAPA), in an open letter to the ministers of the UK, Iceland, Faroe, Norway, Greenland and Russia, has called for immediate commitments to setting catch limits that adhere strictly to the best scientific advice. It is threatening to take various forms of unilateral action if agreement is not forthcoming, including boycotting catches from countries that set unilateral quotas, or even boycotting the fisheries entirely.

Recent reports claim that loss of MSC accreditation of the blue whiting fishery has led to a price drop of more than 20%, as buyers seeking MSC-accredited products for their fish feeds looked elsewhere. Although industry sources discredit this claim, pointing instead to a wider drop in prices related to pelagic fishmeal catches off Peru and Chile, it is widely accepted that catch levels in 2021 were unsustainable.

The discussions, held under the NEAFC umbrella in London in late 2021, broke up without agreement of quota shares for the three stocks in 2022, with the ‘northern states’ continuing to justify increase of catches of the stock well above levels that would reflect their share of the TAC, on the basis of a northern migration into their waters.

As Fishing News pointed out in an analysis at the time, however, catch records indicated that the vast majority of catches by these states were taken outside their own waters, and that in reality, most of the unilateral quotas awarded were not available to catch. The call by NAPA also ignores the reality that talks will commence after the winter mackerel season is already over, and the blue whiting season is well underway.

Talking to Fishing News, Ian Gatt, on behalf of the Scottish Pelagic Fishermen’s Association (SFPA), said: “2022 looks as if it will be a pivotal year for these stocks. There appears to be have been little political appetite for a deal over the last few years, but that seems to be changing. Progress is being made on the scientific report on stock distribution, catches and area of capture for the three stocks.

“Failure to reach agreement this year is clearly something coastal states want to avoid. The SFPA has been at the forefront of calls to use the upcoming scientific reports on stock distribution and catches as the basis for a new quota-sharing agreement. We are hopeful that with new governments in Norway and Iceland, and political change underway in Faroe, a sensible and fair agreement can be made.”

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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