The North Atlantic Pelagic Advocacy Group (NAPA) is formed by global retailers, food service companies and suppliers. More than 50 members with a shared aim of achieving sustainable fisheries management. This means “taking overall catches that comply with scientific advice and having robust long-term management measures firmly in place”.

In the press release, NAPA argues that “these should be minimum requirements for the sustainable and responsible management of any fishery”. Thus, “there is no excuse for Coastal States to disregarding their collective responsibility”. But this is not quite the case.

The Norwegian and Faroese governments are a concern to NAPA as they have decided “to ignore calls for cooperation and set unilateral quotas for Northeast Atlantic mackerel”. Attitudes that show that “these countries are directly challenging the cooperative and sustainable management of this crucial stock”.

To get an idea, “Norway and the Faroe Islands, combined, monopolize more than half of the total ICES advice for Northeast Atlantic mackerel, which is shared between six Coastal States”. Something that “undermines the efforts made to reach an agreement between all parties and guarantee long-term sustainability for this stock”.

This is not, however, the only case. Like the specific example we have just given you, other Coastal States have consistently set catch levels well above the established scientific advice for Northeast Atlantic mackerel. 

Consequently, there has been annual overfishing registed, and the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) had its certification suspended. Equally or even more alarming “major brands worldwide and their customers have lost their supply of sustainably endorsed mackerel”.

Aware of these problems, NAPA assures: “we are focused on getting Coastal States to put an end to more than a decade of chronic overfishing and unilateral quota setting”. By Coastal States we mean the UK, Europe, Norway, Iceland, Faroes, Greenland, and Russia that, in addition to Northeast Atlantic mackerel, also fish Atlanto-Scandian herring and blue whiting.

Not all parties honoured the promises made

Last year, in October, NAPA retailers and suppliers came out of the Coastal States meetings with the feeling that “mackerel quotas could once again be on a track towards sustainability”. To this contributed the fact that “all parties involved in these reunions have proactively agreed to the decision that “total allowable catches for 2022 would adhere to the scientific advice”. As well as the assurance that “discussions on crucial sharing arrangements would take place at the earliest opportunity next year”.

Unfortunately, there was no passage from words to actions and yet in 2021, over Christmas, these promises started to be broken. How? The UK and the EU have decided to set their own mackerel allocations in advance of the much-anticipated quota sharing discussions. Nevertheless, “only these two territories have made any attempt to keep fishing effort within the allocations agreed under the historic allocation agreement “.

Then we have the case of Norway and the Faroe Islands which, after months of seemingly productive sharing discussions, have published their own mackerel allocations. Norway has set its mackerel quota for 2022 at 278,222 tonnes, accounting for 35% of overall ICES advice for this stock. The Faroe Islands, for its part, felt it was fair to monopolize alone 155,804 tonnes of mackerel, 19.6% of what ICES recommends for this species.

According to the press release, “both countries have claimed the same proportion of the ICES advice as they did in 2021”. For those who don’t know, last year, Norway and the Faroes “unilaterally raised their allocations by an unprecedented 55%”. A disappointing decision which may have contributed to the total allowable catch (TAC), also in 2021, being 41.8% higher than the ICES recommendations.

Aware of all these facts, the NAPA would like the Coast States to explain how can you be invested in safeguarding the future of these fisheries by setting catch levels above the established scientific advice, year on year. How does this make part of a sustainable management of these resources?

The SDG target 14:4 is “of particular pertinence”

The central theme of this year’s UN Ocean Conference was the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14 ‘life below water’. The event was attended by conservationists, scientists, policy-makers, and ocean activists from worldwide. People who took this opportunity to review progress against the mentioned SDG 14 ‘life under water’, regarding the conservation and sustainably use of the oceans, seas, and marine resources for sustainable development.

The SDG target 14:4 is described to us as being of “particular pertinence”. This is because it aims, by 2020, “to effectively regulate harvesting, and end overfishing, illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing and destructive fishing practices”. As well as “implement science-based management plans, to restore fish stocks in the shortest time feasible at least to levels that can produce maximum sustainable yield as determined by their biological characteristics”.

Successfully achieving these targets is crucial and the Northeast Atlantic Coastal States, who have publicly endorsed the SDG target 14:4, know this. However, as has already become noticeable, their actions are entirely contradictory as these territories ignore the commitments they make whenever it is convenient for them to do so.

“We see individual countries prioritizing their own political gains ahead of the needs of fishing industries and communities, supply-chain businesses and the stocks on which they all depend,” accuses NAPA.

The group ends this wake-up call with a warning: “to solve these problems, all Coastal States fishing mackerel will have to individually and collectively fish less”. For the avoidance of doubt we are talking specifically about the UK, EU, Norway, Iceland, Faroe Islands and Greenland.

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