Mackerel off the Menu

Mackerel has been effectively taken off the menu as the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) has downgraded the fish from its list of fish suitable to eat. The MCS state that because of international arguments about quotas, the oily fish is no longer a sustainable choice. They advise that from now on until further notice, mackerel should only be eaten occasionally and consumers should opt for herrings or sardines instead.

Picture: SPL

Picture: SPL

However, not everyone is happy with this downgrading, as UK fishermen say that the downgrading is premature and could even be counterproductive.

Mackerel has proved to be a popular choice as many oily fish have, and this is thought to be due to the health benefits associated with eating oily fish. However, as demand has increased, the actual fish have moved from their normal areas of the north east Atlantic, they are now found in the north west towards Iceland and the Faroe Isles. And because the mackerel is found in larger quantities in these newer areas, the Icelandic and Faroese fishing industries have unilaterally decided to vastly increase the amount of the species that they catch.

Scottish fishermen, for whom mackerel is a critical stock, are not happy and now the EU and Norway have been called in to solve the dispute over quotas, which so far has proved intractable in negotiations. All these variables have forced the MCS to act, and they have accordingly now removed mackerel from its “fish to eat” list.

“At the moment, the stock biomass according to the scientific data is above the levels that is recommended, however the number of fish being removed is above the target and too high,” MCS fisheries officer Bernadette Clarke told BBC News.

“The stock is good for now but it is currently declining. It is now rated as a fish to eat only occasionally – it is not rated as one to avoid,” she said.

Benedikt Jonsson, the Icelandic ambassador to the UK, issued a statement last year saying that his country has worked for years to get an agreement on mackerel fishing.

“We have repeatedly offered proposals that sustain the mackerel population and ensure a fair outcome for all countries,” he said.

“Unfortunately, certain countries have responded with attacks on Iceland and threats of sanctions, while simultaneously demanding a vastly oversized portion of the mackerel catch. The facts are clear: Icelandic fishing is generally recognised as sustainable and responsible.”

While the MCS says consumers should seek alternatives including herring and sardines, representatives of Scottish fishermen argue that the downgrading is premature.

“The stock is actually still well above the precautionary level, even if Iceland and the Faroes continue to do this,” says Bertie Armstrong of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation and added: “You can ignore the MCS advice this year.”

Mr Armstrong is outspoken about the amount of mackerel the Icelandic fisherman are fishing for: “The public is being fed the line by the Icelandic ambassador that the fish are coming into our waters and we are having a little go. That is just nonsense, they are having the maximum physically possible go,” he said.

So far there have been 12 rounds of talks so far as political representatives try to hammer out an agreement on mackerel quotas. A spokesperson for the UK’s Department for the Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs (Defra) said that this process was the only way forward.

“The continued sustainability of mackerel is vitally important and is increasingly threatened by the actions of the Faroe Islands and Iceland. We are extremely concerned that an agreement on fishing rights has not yet been reached. That is why the UK continues to seek a new agreement that is fair to all.”

Source: BBC News