Four Marine Stewardship Council (MSC)-certified Atlanto-Scandian herring fisheries operating in the Northeast Atlantic are at a high risk of losing their MSC certificates on at the end of this year, because of a lack of an international agreement on how to manage catch levels between different nations.

Atlanto-Scandian herring fisheries likely to lose their MSC-certificates
  • ISF Norwegian and Icelandic herring trawl and seine (Iceland)
  • SPSG, DPPO, PFA, SPFPO & KFO Atlanto-Scandian purse seine and pelagic trawl herring (EU+UK)
  • Faroese pelagic organisation Atlanto Scandian herring (Faroe Islands)
  • Norway Spring spawning herring (Norway)

Between them the MSC-certified fisheries land 600,000-700,000 metric tons of Atlanto-Scandian herring, around half of the total MSC-certified herring catches landed annually worldwide.

MSC-labelled herring is sold to consumers via supermarkets and fishmongers throughout Europe, and certification of pelagic fisheries has become an increasingly important check box for aquaculture feed companies.

But the absence of effective management – in particular, the quota-sharing agreement between the coastal and fishing nations (EU, the United Kindgom, Iceland, Faroe Islands, Norway, Russia and Greenland) – has seen combined harvests exceeding recommended levels for years.

In 2019 fisheries collectively caught 777,165 metric tons, 32 percent the level recommended by scientists.

This year, total Atlanto-Scandian herring catches are expected to exceed scientific advice by almost a third.

After years of inaction by governments and having already seen the Northeast Atlantic mackerel fishery stripped of its Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certificate in 2019, there may only be one last chance to avoid the four herring fisheries suffering the same fate.

The annual meeting of the Northeast Atlantic Coastal States, where international management measures are typically agreed upon, is an opportunity for governments to solve the quota-sharing problem and ensure the long-term sustainability of the Atlanto-Scandian herring stock. That meeting begins Monday.

In the 1960s, the herring stock, which had been one of the biggest in the world, plummeted due to overfishing, taking two decades to recover.

“We urge the nations meeting in October to commit to a quota-sharing agreement in line with the scientific advice," the MSC’s Northern Europe Director, Erin Priddle said.

"Only this approach will help ensure the health of the herring stock in short, medium and long term."