MSC: Nations Must Seize Historic Opportunity to Safeguard North East Atlantic Pelagic Fish Stocks

Continued negotiations must see quotas allocated in line with scientific advice

The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) is urging nations in the North East Atlantic to seize a historic opportunity to reach agreement on the sustainable management of key fish stocks as international quota-setting negotiations show signs of a breakthrough following years of deadlock.

Last week, at the annual meeting of the North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission (NEAFC), fishing nations adopted conservation and management measures for stocks including mackerel, Atlanto-Scandian herring and blue whiting for the 2022 season (1). Delegates agreed to adopt a joint Total Allowable Catch (TAC) for these species in line with scientific advice  (2). However, as in previous years, there was no indication of how this TAC should be divided amongst the individual nations – a situation which has historically led to combined national quotas consistently exceeding scientific advice (3).

However, in a promising development initially proposed at October’s meeting of the Coastal States (4), representatives  acknowledged the need to reach a sharing agreement for mackerel, Atlanto-Scandian herring and blue whiting (5). Members of the Coastal States have committed to establishing working groups to analyse and report on the stock and catch distribution of the three pelagic species, with an aim to undertake further negotiations in early 2022. 

The MSC has been calling for urgent action to safeguard the long-term future of these key pelagic stocks, and a number of seafood retailers and suppliers have committed to reduce or even stop sourcing from these fisheries if the current situation is not resolved (6,7). MSC fishery certificates were suspended for these fisheries due to  lack of a quota sharing agreement in line with scientific advice, combined with an overall downward trend in stock health (8,9).

Today the MSC welcomes the establishment of the working groups as a positive step towards ending the overexploitation of these economically and ecologically valuable stocks. However, it warns that if further negotiations do not lead to a concrete solution, it is likely that the sum of the catch quotas set by individual nations will once again overshoot sustainable levels (10).

Erin Priddle, Regional Director, North Europe at the MSC said“It is imperative that the affluent nations of the North East Atlantic protect our shared pelagic resources for the benefit of current, and future generations. We welcome the declaration that all parties are committed to reach quota-sharing agreements for all three stocks and are encouraged by the pledge to establish working groups to make progress on this issue.

“While this is a step in the right direction, success can only be achieved through the collective best efforts of all involved to ensure quotas are set in line with science, nested within long-term management plans that are internationally agreed and implemented. The Coastal States and fishing nations of the North East Atlantic have before them a real opportunity to blueprint solutions for resolving challenges related to international fisheries management and we hope that the momentum to agree solutions is now capitalised on.”

Notes to editors

Mackerel, blue whiting and Atlanto-Scandian herring stocks in the North-East-Atlantic are shared by the European Union (EU), Norway, Iceland, Russia, the Faroe Islands, Greenland, and most recently the United Kingdom (UK), which claimed independent Coastal State status in 2020. These states form the North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission (NEAFC) contracting parties.


  1. 40th annual meeting of the North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission
  2. NEAFC Press-statement, 15 November 2021
  3. MSC factsheet – Quota sharing agreement urgently needed for North East Atlantic pelagic fish stocks
  4. European Commission: North-East Atlantic coastal States reach agreement on mackerel, blue whiting and Atlanto-Scandian herring TACs for 2022
  5. NEAFC Press-statement, 15 November 2021
  6. Sourcing statements from the North Atlantic Pelagic Advocacy group and partners
  7. Guardian: Stop overfishing or we’ll go elsewhere – top UK firm warns European states
  8. MSC press release: MSC certificates suspended for all North East Atlantic mackerel fisheries
  9. MSC press release: International action needed on herring and blue whiting stocks
  10. On September 30th 2021, data released from ICES highlighted that for 2021 the combined quotas for mackerel, Atlanto-Scandian herring, and blue whiting for 2021 were again set above scientifically advised limits for the year, and by 41%, 35% and 25% respectively.