MSC suspends pelagic certificatesMSC certification for some North Atlantic pelagic fisheries is being suspended

The Marine Stewardship Council has announced the suspension as of 30th December of eight certificates for North Atlantic blue whiting and Atlanto-Scandian herring fisheries, stating that management measures fall short of the requirements for sustainable fisheries.

The suspension affects fisheries from the European Union, Norway, Iceland, Russia, the Faroe Islands, Greenland, plus the United Kingdom, which claims independent coastal state status in 2020. From 30th December 2020, Atlanto-Scandian herring and blue whiting caught on or after that date cannot be sold as MSC certified or bear the blue MSC label.

The reason given for the fisheries’ suspension is the lack of an international agreement on how to manage catch levels between different nations. The absence of an effective stock management – in particular, a quota sharing agreement between the involved nations in line with scientific advice – has led to the combined catch exceeding the recommended catch levels for a number of years.

“We urge nations to commit to a quota-sharing agreement in line with the scientific advice,” said the MSC’s Northern Europe Director, Erin Priddle.

“Only through effective stock management can we ensure the health of the herring and blue whiting stocks in the short, medium and long term. While individual fisheries often make great efforts to improve their sustainability, ultimately, they cannot do it alone. Migratory species like Atlanto-Scandian herring do not observe national boundaries, so we need international agreements to manage whole ecosystems in an adaptive, scientific way, rather than managing fish resources based on national interest.”

In 2019, Atlanto-Scandian herring fisheries collectively caught 32% more than the scientific advice for the year. Erin Priddle commented that following the catch quotas announced by the individual states, the same pattern will be followed in 2020.

“The annual meeting of the Northeast Atlantic Coastal States held in October 2020 did not reach a solution to this stock management problem.”

The soon to be suspended Atlanto-Scandian herring fisheries account for landings of between 600,000 and 700,000 tonnes annually, which is around 50% of the total MSC-certified herring catches landed each year. MSC labelled herring is sold to consumers via supermarkets and fishmongers throughout Europe.

The landings of blue whiting fisheries are predominantly used to produce fishmeal for farmed salmon, with a small quantity processed as surimi for consumers in Japan, Australia and France.

According to the MSC, independent assessors identified the absence of a quota-sharing system as a threat to the health of the stock and conditions were stipulated in 2015 for nations to reach an agreement by 2020 for continued MSC certification. This provided a five-year window for the issue to be addressed, but due to a lack of progress on this condition, the fisheries are now having their MSC certificates suspended.

For the same reason MSC certified mackerel fisheries in the Northeast Atlantic were suspended in 2019 and have not yet been reinstated due to ongoing concern about how catch is managed in response to scientific data on stock levels and inability to agree a quota share arrangement between the relevant fishing states.

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