Atlantic mackerel should no longer be considered a sustainable seafood, according to the UK’s leading ocean charity.

Populations of the oily fish – often bought as smoked fillets or in tins – have suffered from more than a decade of overfishing, the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) has warned.

It has blamed the overfishing on a lack of agreement on quotas between states catching northeast Atlantic mackerel, including the UK, Norway, Iceland and the EU.

The MCS has downgraded the fish from green – “Best Choice” – to amber – “OK Choice” – in its Good Fish Guide.

However, the charity says only green-rated seafood is considered truly sustainable, because its amber rating means improvements are needed.

Charlotte Coombes, Good Fish Guide Manager, at the Marine Conservation Society, said: “The northeast Atlantic mackerel population has been declining since 2015, which is concerning.
“Fishing communities and wildlife depend on this species, but continued overfishing is putting both at risk.
“International cooperation is the only way to fix this problem, and UK governments must lead by example.
“We need to see countries agree on quotas, and extra management measures being put in place to protect stocks.”

The charity moved northeast Atlantic mackerel from green to amber in spring’s update to the Good Fish Guide.

It had been listed as green since before 2011.

The charity says populations of the fish have previously been large enough to withstand the pressure of fishing, but have been in steady decline since 2015.

According to the MCS, the main issue is that while countries fishing for northeast Atlantic mackerel agree to the scientific limits, there is no agreement on how to divide the total.
“Consequently, quotas have been higher than scientifically recommended limits since 2009, exceeding them by between 5% and 80%,” the charity said.

The MCS pointed to last year as an example, when fishing countries agreed to a limit of 794,920 tonnes last year, but the combined catch total hit 1,131,416 tonnes.

The UK takes about 17% of the total mackerel catch, mostly caught by Scottish boats. It is an industry estimated to be worth around £240million a year, based on 2021 figures.

However, overfishing could lead to long-term damage, not only to the industry but for marine life as well, the charity warned.
“Mackerel is important prey for whales, dolphins, and tuna.
“Removing too much of this key species could have wider environmental impacts. In a warming climate, our ocean is already facing significant challenges.
“These kinds of changes to delicate food webs are an unwanted additional pressure.”

The Marine Conservation Society reviewed 186 ratings on the Good Fish Guide this spring.
Amongst those ratings that did not change were European eel and Celtic cod, which stay on the red-rated, “Fish to Avoid” list.

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