Dispute means mackerel is no longer catch of the day

mackerel Consumption of mackerel has grown rapidly in recent years

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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."

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  • rate this

    Comment number 322.

    The problem is with fishings laws in the EU. The EU has allowed masses of fishing boats to come across and tap into fisheries. Alongside this is the quota system which whilst has good intentions is flawed in that any fish over the quota is dumped overboard despite being dead by the time.

    Fix broken laws like this and you fix problems.

  • rate this

    Comment number 321.

    Another marketing ploy that will ensure supermarkets and fishmongers put up the price of this lovely fish. Shame.

  • rate this

    Comment number 320.

    @chris:315: "There needs to be a moratorium on fishing completely for about 5 years, we then can source fish responsibly, there will be enough to go round if we share it out fairly."

    By which time we will have no fishing fleet left.

  • rate this

    Comment number 319.

    This problem results only from a dispute between Iceland, Faroes, Norway and EU. There is a EU-Norway agreement, but Iceland and Faroes have declared a mackerel quota outside this agreement because some of the NE Atlantic mackerel population have become resident Iceland/Faroe waters. They can't agree on a fair division of the sustainable catch - decided independently by the ICES scientists.

  • rate this

    Comment number 318.

    312.Trout Mask Replica

    EU council of idiots more like ! Any fool could have told them before it was even implemented that this policy was going to be a recipe for disaster. Another example of people who have no common sense or appropriate qualifications, setting the rules that govern us all.
    How many of them have even set foot on a fishing boat or have a related degree I wonder ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 317.

    I'm a sonar engineer based in the UK. In Oct. 2009 we were operating a new fisheries sonar in the North Sea, near Shetland. At one point we recorded a very large, but not uncommon, 1.5 mile long mark of Mackerel. Independent Scientists estimated it contained 200,000 tons of fish. That is more than 400,000,000 mackerel. The large marks are there again this year. Unsustainable??

  • rate this

    Comment number 316.

    Oh dear!... Who'll tell the supermarkets???

  • rate this

    Comment number 315.

    There needs to be a moratorium on fishing completely for abot 5 years, we then can source fish responsibly, there will be enough to go round if we share it out fairly.

  • rate this

    Comment number 314.

    Are fishermen still throwing back perfectly edible but dead fish because of ridiculous size laws?

  • rate this

    Comment number 313.

    How long can the global waters feed the growing world population when massive nets on the trawlers rake up and damage the sea beds, catch what`s there and if it contains undersized fish or the wrong species it has to be dumped by law. That angers me, along with seeing the sewerage,detergents,and plastics pollution we can often find on our shores of Britain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 312.

    because of the unelected foreigners who run British fishing policy from Brussels!"

    There isn't a "British Fishing Policy"; there's an EU Common Fishing Policy. As far as I am aware I do not believe those "unelected foreigners who run" it have anything specifically malign against Britain in implementing the policy agreed to by the ELECTED EU Council of Ministers

  • rate this

    Comment number 311.

    @Eric, 229: The mackerel in the photo accompanying this article are clearly being displayed in a French fishmonger's shop, not the UK. Not only is the name on the tag 'Maquereau' but the price is is Euros.

    I would be very surprised to find mackerel this small in a UK fishmonger's shop.

    A case of the rules not being applied evenly across the EU, perhaps ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 310.


    The west has a responsibility to lead the way to becoming more sustainable but we're not the only problem.

    I agree, we're not the only problem, but "the west" has led the way in creating the problem and is still reluctant to do anything other than carry on regardless.

    And I don't mean only with fish, we've done it with everything.

  • rate this

    Comment number 309.

    This HYS smells extremly fishy. I'm not sure why you are all CARPING on about it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 308.

    That`s a fine tail to come with !! think they are floundering for something to put in plaice !! they seem to be a dab hand at not solving the issue and sitting on the perch !! sorry having a whale of a time !!! lol Rock on Tommy

  • rate this

    Comment number 307.

    We should fish what is in our waters,we should listen to our scientists and our fisherman,we can't,why because of the unelected foreigners who run British fishing policy from Brussels!
    Clearly fishing policy is NOT a national issue.
    Fish do that clever swimming thing...

  • rate this

    Comment number 306.

    This may come as a surprise to some of you but at this very moment there are large stretches of the seabed 18 inches deep in rotting mackerel.

    These are the smaller fish that have been dumped from Faroese trawlers en route to British ports to land the rest of their catch.

    The rotting fish are eaten by other species such as cod and monkfish, tainting their flavour and rendering them worthless.

  • rate this

    Comment number 305.

    Been out on HUGE Scottish boats designed for Mackeral and Herring I can attest to the shock off seeing entire shoals of fish being hoovered up without any work. Their £15 million boats run up and down the coast for 4 hours with the best tech locating the fish and haul the entire shoal and be back in harbour by lunchtime with thousands of tonnes.

    Is simply wasn't and isn't sustainable.

  • rate this

    Comment number 304.

    We should fish what is in our waters,we should listen to our scientists and our fisherman,we can't,why because of the unelected foreigners who run British fishing policy from Brussels! Mind you at least there is some consistency here,they control agriculture,borders,employment rights etc etc etc..

  • rate this

    Comment number 303.

    It makes me so furious listening to the media sympathise with fishermen who have emptied our seas of so many species and whose interests are clearly only to do with their pockets. The choice is simple: A few fishermans' livelihoods or destroy the ecological balance of our seas which in turn threatens our own species' survival.


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