Atlanto-Scandian herring and blue whiting fisheries will be suspended from the MSC Fishery Standard on December 30, 2020, according to the independent assessors responsible for certifying fisheries to the MSC Fishery Standard. The suspension affects fisheries from the European Union, Norway, Iceland, the Faroe Islands and, most recently, the United Kingdom, which claimed independent Coastal State status in 2020. Atlanto-Scandian herring and blue whiting caught on or after December 30, 2020, cannot be sold as “MSC certified” or bear the blue MSC label.
The Atlanto-Scandian herring fisheries that will be suspended land between 600,000 to 700,000 tons per year, which is around 50% of the total MSC-certified herring catches landed annually. The blue whiting fisheries to be suspended are predominantly used to produce fishmeal for farmed salmon, a small quantity is sold as surimi to consumers in Japan, Australia and France.
The reason for the fisheries´ suspension is the lack of an international agreement on how to manage catch levels between different nations. The absence of 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.
In 2019, Atlanto-Scandian herring fisheries collectively caught 32% more than the scientific advice for the year. Following the catch quotas announced by the individual states, the same will happen 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 MSC’s Northern Europe Director, Erin Priddle, said that “we urge nations to commit to a quota-sharing agreement in line with the scientific advice. 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.”
Independent assessors identified that the absence of a quota-sharing system for Atlanto-Scandian herring or blue whiting could threaten the health of the stock and set a condition that nations must reach an agreement by 2020 for continued MSC certification. This was stipulated in 2015, giving fisheries a five-year time frame to work towards. Due to a lack of progress on this condition, the fisheries are now having their MSC certificates suspended.
Feed companies response
“We are working closely with our customers to address this unfortunate situation and we will make sure they are fully serviced. Our customers produce high quality, sustainable seafood and they demand responsibly sourced material. We will continue to honor our commitment and agreements with them,” Biomar said. “We do not foresee a situation of purchasing uncertified material before a credible initiative is established that outlines clear guidelines with measurable targets, which would ultimately lead to the recertification of the fisheries. We will work closely with the industry and other stakeholder groups like North Atlantic Pelagic Advocacy (NAPA) to see if credible improvement plans can be established.”