Dispute means mackerel is no longer catch of the day

mackerel Consumption of mackerel has grown rapidly in recent years

Related Stories

The Marine Conservation Society (MCS) has downgraded mackerel from its list of fish suitable to eat.

The society says that international arguments about quotas mean it is no longer a sustainable choice.

It says that mackerel should now be eaten only occasionally and consumers should instead eat herrings or sardines.

But UK fishermen say the downgrading is premature and could be counterproductive.

Mackerel has become increasingly popular in recent years, thanks in part to greater awareness of the health benefits associated with eating oily fish. It has also been endorsed by several celebrity chefs.

Go west

Start Quote

It is now rated as a fish to eat only occasionally - it is not rated as one to avoid”

End Quote Bernadette Clarke Marine Conservation Society

But as the interest in the species has increased, the fish itself has been on the move. Once found mainly in the north east Atlantic, in recent years the fish have tended to head north west towards Iceland and the Faroe Isles following their prey of squid and crustaceans.

Because it is found in greater quantities in their waters, the Icelandic and Faroese fishing industries have unilaterally decided to vastly increase the amount of the species that they catch.

This has upset Scottish fishermen for whom mackerel is a critical stock, with £164m landed in 2011. The EU and Norway are also involved in the dispute over quotas which so far has proved intractable in negotiations.

The impasse has spurred the Marine Conservation Society into action. It has 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.

mackerel on the counter The Marine Conservation Society now says that mackerel should only be eaten occasionally

"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.

'Mugging job'

"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.

"You can ignore the MCS advice this year."

Mr Armstrong is scathing about the way the Icelandic fishermen are fishing for mackerel, describing it as a "mugging job".

"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.

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."

Follow Matt on Twitter.


More on This Story

Related Stories


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 242.

    Politicians and regualtion have failed yet again! And if fishermen were left to their own devices they would fish everything to extinction!

    Time to take a different tack (no pun inteded), and let the consumers dictate the demand. After all, if there's no demand, the slaughter of increasingly younger fish will no longer be profitable. And that will hopefully end so many immoral practices!

  • rate this

    Comment number 241.

    You only have to read the Marine Conservation Society lists and notice that most fish appear on their 'do not eat' and 'do eat' lists to realise that the list itself is pointless.

  • rate this

    Comment number 240.

    230.Trout Mask Replica

    "There was a clue in the brackets"

    No need for sarcasm. Not everyone is familiar with the fishing rules pre and post EEC. Having read a bit about it since, your comments seem fair.
    Nowadays, with scientific monitoring of fish stocks, the situation would be unlikely to re-occur if British waters were reserved only for British Fishermen.

  • rate this

    Comment number 239.

    When it comes to North Sea fishing Iceland and the Faroes have long been a law unto themselves. They will continue to overfish until extinction. Its about time a couple of Frigates were sent up there but:
    a) we havent got enough warships
    b) we have to do as we are told by Europe
    c) we stopped standing up for ourselves and our interests years ago

  • rate this

    Comment number 238.

    i think we should give all our oceans a rest and eat some horse meat instead. Every little helps

  • rate this

    Comment number 237.

    The MSC are wrong in doing this, why does there always need to be so much red tape around everything. The demand for Mackerel is there so let the fisherman supply the demand and please everyone else stop sticking your nose in

  • rate this

    Comment number 236.

    216. penguin337
    "So in the great scheme of things Iceland is now an enemy of Banker loving Britain"

    It was a lack of oversight by Iceland and a misguided belief that their banks were wonderful that led to their collapse just as in Ireland. True those who put their money in the Iceland banks were niave, the rates they offered were too high and I think that they should all have lost their money.

  • rate this

    Comment number 235.

    "This Planet is on loan to us"

    Please tell me who lent us this planet.
    It belongs to no-one so therefore it's for the taking.

    If you'r so into conservation, get off your computer. It takes resources to power it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 234.

    If only we went back to cannibalism, then we would be doing ourselves overpopulation & fish & every other hunted/farmed species a favour & also those that are not hunted/farmed but genocidally exterminated as a result of human behaviour/actions.

    Soylent Green burgers will probably be a future reality, as it relatively was of Britain 1315–1317 & on numerous other historical ocassions

  • rate this

    Comment number 233.

    I'll stick to eating dolphin then...

  • rate this

    Comment number 232.

    It makes me laugh. Who decided who 'owned' which parts of the sea?? And who gave them the right to do that?

    This planet is on loan to us, and we are destroying it with greed, selfishness, ignorance and control

  • rate this

    Comment number 231.

    WHAT NEXT ???????

  • rate this

    Comment number 230.

    Other countries may have been overfishing cod from our waters at the time"

    There was a clue in the brackets: [note before we joined the EEC]

    Fishing is a classic example of the "tragedy of the commons" where over-exploitation is incented and conservation and restraint not rewarded.

    EG Overfishing of anchovy off Peru devastated the Guano fertiliser industry.

  • rate this

    Comment number 229.

    Fishermen, and fishmongers, are selling smaller and smaller fish, so it is no wonder the native stocks are reducing. They are being netted in the millions before they are old enough to breed! Those mackerel in the picture are probably about one year old. An adult mackerel could swallow one of those tiddlers! The fishermen HAVE to accept that they MUST use larger mesh nets, and have smaller catches

  • rate this

    Comment number 228.

    I've been Mackerel fishing many times on the south coast and the biggest problems are from Spanish fatory ships coming in close to the land who take vast amounts of them and there's also a big problem with comercial netting, so many have been taken in recent years that beach fishing for them is now pointless.

  • rate this

    Comment number 227.

    Iceland refuses to join the EU, Icelanders know that joining the EU would be a disaster for them"

    Though like Norway they are members of Schengen (so have less control over their borders than we do) and, apart from fishing, have to accept most EU laws but have no say in setting them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 226.

    213.Trout Mask Replica

    But who was doing the overfishing of the UK cod that led to the "cod wars" with Iceland ? Was it just British Trawlers ? I doubt the situation was that simple. Other countries may have been overfishing cod from our waters at the time !

  • rate this

    Comment number 225.

    Fish are doomed as is most of the natural environment

    Iceland has and excellent record for preserving its fish stocks
    This has drawn the mackerel West for food, and away from the EU zone

    Iceland refuses to join the EU, Icelanders know that joining the EU would be a disaster for them

    Iceland also hates corporate bankers

    So the fish are now sustainable and the Icelanders are safe

    Skál !

  • rate this

    Comment number 224.

    Tiger Prawns and King Prawns are listed as both fish to eat AND avoid on the Marine Conservation Society website.

    Hardly a clear and concise guide!

  • rate this

    Comment number 223.

    For those who would like more information on the subject, please google end of the line film. Very informative. From my perspective, fishing is a business, therefore we the consumer have to shoulder responsibility. If fish is being thrown back it's because we won't buy it.


Page 6 of 18


More Science & Environment stories



BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.