Minister warns of mackerel collapse as Scotland announces record landings
April 17 2012 Lewis Smith
A huge increase in the value of fish landed in Scotland masks underlying problems including overfishing and operating costs, fisheries leaders have warned.
Landings rose in 2011 to £500 million compared to 2010 but mackerel stocks, the single most valuable catch in Scotland, are threatened by “gross overfishing”.
Mackerel landings were worth £163 million in 2011, a 44 per cent increase on the previous year and almost double the nephrops landings which at £83 million were the second most valuable catch.
Part of the increase in value for mackerel was attributed to an 8 per cent rise in the volume landed but it was mostly down to a 33 per cent increase in prices. Demand for the fish from Japan and Russia was the main reason for the high price.
Richard Lochhead, the Scottish fisheries secretary, said mackerel stocks are now seriously threatened by overfishing because of the row over quotas between the EU and Norway on one side and Iceland and the Faroe Islands on the other.
The huge quotas claimed by Iceland and the Faroes – each is claiming close to 150,000 tonnes – is placing unsustainable demands on the stocks and has intensified calls for the EU to impose sanctions on them. Seven fisheries have recently had their Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification of sustainability withdrawn because of the threat to stocks.
“The EU must urgently progress plans for sanctions to address the reckless overfishing of mackerel by Iceland and the Faroes. Otherwise this valuable fishery may not be there in the years to come,” said Mr Lochhead.
Bertie Armstrong, chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, was equally concerned about mackerel stocks and said: “The mackerel prices are sky high and the mackerel industry is grateful for that. But that’s history now. What we are looking at now is a blight on the landscape.
“A chill wind is blowing in the shape of the gross overfishing of the valuable north-east Atlantic mackerel stock by Iceland and the Faroes, which provides an uncertain future for our mackerel fishermen.”
Mr Armstrong was also concerned that while the turnover of many Scottish fishermen was high last year because of prices, the level of profitability was low because oil prices and other factors are making operational costs high. This, he said, can have the consequence of local overfishing because fishermen are unwilling to sail far from port so concentrate their effort on stocks close to the coast.
Scottish fishing boats landed 380,000 tonnes last year and reached the highest value they have been at for a decade with herring, along with mackerel, among the major drivers. Herring prices rose 61 per cent.
Despite the increase in value the size of the fleet continued to fall with 2,096 vessels being active by the end of 2011. At the start of the year there were 2,050. The number of fishermen fell by 231 from 5,236.
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