MSC sounds warning: Atlanto-Scandian herring catch exceeds sustainable limits

Atlanto-Scandian herring stock is driven to critical levels, as catches face steep cut by 44% shows the MSC analysis.
North East Atlantic pelagic fishing boat. Photo by: MSC.
North East Atlantic pelagic fishing boat. Photo by: MSC.

The MSC has published an article highlighting the issue of overfishing of the Atlanto-Scandian herring, a representative and economically significant fish population in Europe, which is showing increasingly concerning trends with catch limits reaching 44%.

According to the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES), the scientific organization responsible for advising governments on sustainable catch limits, herring fishing requires a drastic reduction. This reduction, equivalent to 302,932 metric tons per year, aims to prevent the decline of the herring population. However, ICES predicts that even if this recommendation is followed, herring populations could continue to decrease by 2025. The expectation for that is surpassing a critical level and endangering long-term sustainability.

The article exmamines the species, revealing a significant decline in recent years. Since 2008, the Atlanto-Scandian herring has decreased from 7 million to 3.7 million tons this year. Furthermore, according to MSC's analysis, data from 2022 reveal that catches exceeded ICES recommendations by 36%, further supporting these figures.

Erin Priddle, Regional Director of MSC in Northern Europe, warns about the deteriorating health of these populations. "The declining health of AS herring and the latest alarming forecast should send a sharp reminder to governments that stocks are at risk of collapse when they are overexploited year on year."

The Need for Nations to Seek Scientific Guidance and Follow Advice

Among the issues that have raised alarm in this story, which is just one example of many, is the inability of fishing nations to agree on quotas based on scientific advice. As explained by MSC, instead of doing so, individual nations unilaterally set quotas, not only for herring but also for Atlantic mackerel and blue whiting, leading to ongoing overexploitation.

Specifically, MSC's figures shows that in the past six years, combined catches of Atlanto-Scandian herring, mackerel, and blue whiting have exceeded the recommended amount by 31%. This reality extends to various species and endangers their existence.

Therefore, MSC urges the governments in the Northeast Atlantic to reach an agreement on quota allocation based on scientific advice. Specifically, the organization points to the upcoming meetings of Coastal States in October 2023 as a crucial opportunity.
This meeting may break the deadlock, enabling a consensus on a shared quota allocation to protect these populations for generations.

"The North-East Atlantic stocks represent one of the largest populations in Europe... Some of the richest nations in the world fish for these populations," said Priddle. "It would be an indictment of all governments involved if they continue to exceed the scientific advice by setting unilateral TACs [total allowable catch]. Setting quotas within safe biological limits is the bedrock of good fisheries management." 

About Marine Stewardship Council (MSC)

The Marine Stewardship Council works as an international non-profit organization. Their mission is to protect marine ecosystems and promote responsible fishing practices. Fisheries that meet the MSC's strict criteria can award the MSC certification. For that reason, it takes into account sustainability, including minimizing environmental impacts and ensuring effective management.

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