Norway should have a share of the fishery that reflects mackerel’s strong attachment to Norwegian waters, according to a letter sent to The Skipper by Pelagic Association senior advisor Mia Høgi
Norway’s historic track record in the fishery, and the mackerel’s biological dependence on the Norwegian sea areas should be to Norway’s advantage.
In 2022, Norwegian vessels landed 289,047 tonnes of NE Atlantic mackerel through Norway’s Herring Sales Association (Norges Sildesalgslag/Sildelaget) to a value of NOK 3.8 billion. This accounts for almost 50 % of the turnover value of pelagic species landed by Norwegian vessels.
Mackerel forage and grow in the Norwegian Economic Zone to the benefit of all coastal states sharing NE Atlantic mackerel. Last week, the Coastal States once again convened preliminary negotiations on mackerel. There are few people outside the fishing industry who give this a thought. Maybe it’s time they should.
Norway, the EU, the Faroe Islands, Greenland, Iceland, Russia, and Great Britain will once again try to come to an agreement on how much mackerel each country should fish in the North Atlantic in 2024. In recent years, it has been challenging. The NE Atlantic mackerel is a highly migratory schooling fish that swims on long annual migrations, crossing several exclusive economic zones (EEZ) in search of food, and to spawn. This migratory behavior makes the fair allocation of the mackerel stock both difficult and complicated; so what could form the basis for a fair and equitable sharing arrangement?
The mackerel is fattened up in Norwegian waters. This should be to the benefit of Norway
In Norway, mackerel is fished both by small coastal vessels and the larger ocean-going fleet. Mackerel is fished far out at sea, along the coast and in our fjords.
In early summer, the mackerel migrates northward to forage in the Norwegian Sea, searching for plankton and smaller prey fish. Mackerel spawn in the spring/early summer to a large extent in the Norwegian zone. When the winter approaches, the fish move again and spend the winter west of Shetland. In recent years, the mackerel has stayed in the Norwegian EEZ to a greater and greater extent during the summer feeding on Norwegian plankton, and the area the fish occupies has grown considerably in size. Mackerel have been found as far north as Isfjorden on Svalbard.
The mackerel forages and fattens up in the Norwegian EEZ. No fish can migrate or spawn successfully without being well-nourished and in good condition. This feeding has a cost to the ecosystem in our marine areas. The mackerel eats almost everything in its path and is well known for being a “vacuum cleaner”. Our other commercial species have therefore had many more mackerel to compete with, both in relation to food and predation; it is suspected that the mackerel’s extensive grazing on herring larvae may have an impact on the population of Norwegian spring-spawning herring. The mackerel’s dependence on the Norwegian EEZ, the biological, and ecological cost of a larger distribution area, together with the time it spends in our seas, should be to the advantage of Norwegian interests in the negotiations.
Norway has been fishing for mackerel since the 1960s. Over many decades, Norway has built up a fishery and developed an extensive export market for mackerel, particularly in Asia. It is Norway that has led the way and built up this important and high paying market.
In 2020, the previous joint mackerel agreement was terminated. At that time, the Coastal States shares were 26.67% to Norway, 58.40% to the EU and 14.93% to the Faroe Islands. More and more countries have applied to be approved as a Coastal State. Brexit became a reality, the United Kingdom became an Independent coastal State, and it was necessary to include the other coastal states that did not participate in the tripartite agreement. Iceland has been fishing for mackerel since 2008, without being part of the cooperation with the other coastal states. As a result, the mackerel was over exploited for several years.
Since 2020, there has been no joint agreement between all the coastal states.
Now once again the Coastal States will try to come to a sharing arrangement for this erratic, and highly migratory protein resource with a high economic significance. Norway has the longest track record in the fishery, has the largest zonal attachment with breeding and feeding areas, and has the most extensive research effort. This should benefit Norway.
Mia Høgi – Senior Advisor, Pelagic Association