Tom Pickerell, executive director of the North Atlantic Pelagic Advocacy Group (NAPA), shares his view on the difficulties facing iconic commercial stocks in the Northeast Atlantic – and sheds light on how the marketplace is holding ministers to account.

For the past year, major global commercial retail and supply-chain business have worked across the Northeast Atlantic to turn the tide on more than a decade of unsustainable decision making for our most prized pelagic fisheries, and our plates.

The new voice of supply chain advocacy, the North Atlantic Pelagic Advocacy Group (NAPA), represents an unprecedented coalition of global business leverage calling explicitly for long-term, sustainable management of renowned pelagic stocks – mackerel, Atlanto-Scandian herring, and blue whiting.

Why did the North East Atlantic pelagic fisheries lose MSC certification?

The European Union, Norway, Iceland, Faroe Islands, the United Kingdom, Russia and Greenland have so far been unable to reach an agreement on a sustainable allocation of catch quotas for mackerel, blue whiting and Atlanto-Scandian herring in the North East Atlantic.

Instead, the individual states have been setting separate quotas that, when combined, significantly exceed the sustainable limits advised by the International Council for Exploration of the Seas (ICES).

In 2021, total quotas for these three species were set at 41 percent, 35 percent and 25 percent respectively above sustainable limits.

All fisheries lost their MSC-certificates as a result: mackerel in 2019 and herring and blue whiting in 2020.

So, how is NAPA holding ministers to account?

NAPA has innovated a novel Fisheries Improvement Project (FIP) – a time-bound business plan to start the clock on a three-year countdown to certification-ready fisheries for mackerel and herring.

While traditional FIPs focus on the need to enact data collection, reduce bycatch or rebuild stocks, the NAPA policy FIP recognizes that these pelagic stocks are abnormal: they are data-rich, well-understood, "clean" fisheries that are not yet overfished.

Yet, they still lost Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification due to poor management and overfishing. The barriers to enacting sustainable management solely depend on decision-making and political will.

In parallel, NAPA has also developed a similar tool for Northeast Atlantic blue whiting. This is structured around the MarinTrust Improver Program (IP) – a unique international certification program for marine feed ingredients, befitting the blue whiting fishery.

Members of The North Atlantic Pelagic Advocacy Group (NAPA)
  • Ahold DelHaize
  • Aldi North Group
  • Aldi South Group
  • Appel Fine Foods
  • Aquascot Ltd
  • Arctic Seafoods
  • ASDA Stores Ltd
  • Biomar
  • Cargill
  • Co-operative Group Ltd
  • Dawnfresh
  • EU Fishmeal
  • Flatfish Ltd
  • Friesenkrone
  • Groupe Gendreau
  • Havsbrún P/F
  • Hilton Seafood UK
  • Hofseth
  • Holtermann
  • Interfish Ltd.
  • International Fish Canners
  • JCCU
  • Karavela
  • Karmsund Protein AS
  • Labeyrie Fine Foods (Lyons)
  • LDH (La Doria) Ltd
  • Marks and Spencer Plc
  • Morrisons Plc
  • Mowi
  • New England Seafood
  • Northeast Nutrition Ltd.
  • Princes Ltd
  • Saeby
  • Sainsbury’s Plc
  • Scottish Sea Farms
  • Skretting
  • Tesco Plc
  • Thai Union
  • TripleNine
  • Waitrose Ltd
  • Young’s Seafood
Source: NAPA

Through its FIPs and inherent commercial influence, NAPA is urging Coastal States to achieve three main goals:

  • Agree on sustainable catch shares
  • Follow the scientific advice
  • Commit to long-term management

To highlight the consequences of inaction, NAPA partners, including Young’s Seafood, Morrisons, Skretting, Asda, and Cargill, have published public sourcing statements to note that irresponsible management has consequences.

More than 20 companies have said they will review their sourcing; eight will cease sourcing from these fisheries altogether; seven will only source from Coastal States acting “responsibly”; and five have noted the negative business impacts they would face.

MSC-certified sustainable jack mackerel from Chile can already be found on shelves at leading European retailers such as Migros (own brand M-Classic “MSC Makrelenfilets”), Delhaize (First State's “Jack Mackerel”), or Albert Heijn (FishTales “Hors Makreel in Olie”).

Unlike Northeast Atlantic mackerel, Chilean jack mackerel is sustainably managed. The 15 nations involved have been able to agree on sustainable quota allocations in line with scientific advice.

We’re beginning to see tangible evidence that NAPA’s advocacy efforts are working.

In 2021, in response to pressure from NAPA, the catching sector, NGOs and the Coastal States acknowledged that the situation cannot continue unaddressed.

For the first time, commitments were made to begin negotiations in earnest in early 2022, supported by new data on the distribution of the stocks.

The global marketplace has made it clear that there needs to be meaningful change by 2024. The clock is ticking.