Thursday, March 29, 2012

When Push Comes to Shove: Mackerel loses MSC certification

They were repeatedly warned about it. Negotiations were going nowhere. Iceland, the Faroe Is, the UK and Scotland, and the EU have held repeated talks to break the deadlock… and the result is a fishery in imminent danger of being overfished. Now, in a move that is a 1st for the Marine Stewardship Council, Europe’s largest certified sustainable fishery will lose its ecolabel, effectively signalling to consumers and retailers that the fishery is unsustainable and poorly managed across its range. From the 31st of March 2012, eight mackerel fisheries will lose accreditation, including the UKs largest fishery: the NE Atlantic mackerel that catches approximately 140 000t per annum. Even (and quite bizarrely) the small scale SW handline mackerel fishery in Cornwall will lose on certification. 

What has happened? Put simply, the stock, across its north Atlantic range is being pushed into the limits of being overfished. This has been driven by Iceland and the Faroe Islands dramatically increasing quota from nominal levels to over 300 000t per annum, a result of mackerel spending more time in these countries waters during the summer. The European fleets, in a deal with Norway have set a quota of nearly 400 000t, and with the additional catch taken by Iceland and the Faroes, in addition to catch taken from the high seas, the total amount of mackerel taken is near to 900 000t around 260 000t over the sustainable limit established by ICES. 

All parties share the blame in this state of affairs. Under the 1982 UN Law of the Sea, Iceland and the Faroese have a legal right to harvest marine resources that reside within their exclusive economic zones. However, under the UN Fish Stocks Agreement (an amendment to the Law of the Sea) fish that cross borders should be subject to international agreements that manage stocks sustainability. Scotland has led the drive to sustainable certification with the MSC, and should be recognised as having led the debate on sustainable fisheries. But the Mexican standoff over mackerel cannot continue, either a negotiated sharing of quota between all fishing nations is needed or arbitration by the International Tribunal of the Law of the Sea.

The MSC has no option but to act. In the failure of states to negotiate a deal that is the best outcome for the stock, it has taken a market based non-government organisation to make a stand for sustainable fisheries. Losing MSC certification on its own will not solve the problem, but the dramatic publicity from one of the largest EU certified fisheries losing it’s status will undoubtedly send shockwaves through the public, the industry, and hopefully.... governments. 

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