Irish Mackerel Fishery Gains MSC Certification

8th Sep 2009 Irish Pelagic Sustainability Group (IPSG) have recently been awarded the Marine Stewardship Council Certification for its Western mackerel pelagic trawl fishery and is therefore able to use the MSC's logo on its products. This covers mackerel fished in EU Waters: ICES sub-areas VI, VII and VIII and Division Vb and international waters: sub-areas XII and XIV and Division IIa. The certification covers all of the mackerel caught by the 22 RSW vessels within the group, around 87% of the total Irish mackerel quota.

The IWDG congratulate the IPSG, which is the first group in Ireland to seek MSC Certification on its products, however the IWDG hope the issues regarding cetacean bycatch are addressed as a matter of urgency to ensure the certification can assure customers that this fishery is sustainable. The IWDG recommended that fisheries managers should seek MSC certification in its Commercial Fisheries Policy Document published in June 2007. see: IWDG Fisheries Policy Document (PDF 1.3MB)

The IWDG were involved in the consultation and raised a number of issues but mainly related to cetacean bycatch rates and monitoring. The IWDG were concerned that there are no data available on bycatch rates in this fishery despite evidence that occasionally a large number of dolphins, especially common dolphins, are caught. Without these data the IWDG cannot see how this fishery can be assessed or certified as sustainable. Five species of cetacean were caught by Dutch mid-water trawlers off the southwest coast of Ireland (Couperus, 1995) and other pelagic trawl fisheries (Morizur et al., 1999). Anecdotal reports of large captures of dolphins, up to 50 in a tow, by the large pelagic pair trawlers in Ireland have been made (Northridge, 1991) but there have been no studies attempting to quantify this bycatch.

There is a requirement in the Bycatch Regulation 812/2004 to monitor cetacean bycatch by vessels over 15m in length in pelagic trawl fisheries in Ireland to identify those fisheries with high cetacean bycatch rates. Observers should be independent and suitably qualified to identify cetacean species and fishing practices. For fleets less than 60 vessels the coverage should be at least 5% of the fishing effort and for fleets more than 60 vessels, 10% of the fishing effort (EC 812/2004). BIM suggest that with increasing experience in the pelagic trawl fishery for tuna and adopting best practice (for example, only having running lights showing whilst towing; shooting the trawl earlier or later to avoid the period one hour either side of dusk, and staying outside the 500m depth contour), that these bycatches may be reduced to negligible levels (Anon, 2000). Similar best practice may exist for other pelagic trawl fisheries which should be adopted for MSC certification.

The IWDG seek full implementation of Bycatch Regulation 812/2004 in this fishery by independent observers with full access to these data by the IWDG.

In the final report the IWDG took issue with a number of items a statement (4.5, page 24) that the IWDG considered “interactions between mackerel fisheries and ETP species are considered very limited”. The IWDG feel it is unlikely that this impact is significant on a population level the complete lack of data on bycatch rates makes it impossible to assess this impact. The main species of concern in this fishery is common dolphin (Delphinus delphis) not bottlenose dolphin. We feel this reference to bottlenose dolphins by the skippers (4.5, page 24) is a consequence of species mis-identification.

The IWDG note IPSG will make contact with the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group by the first surveillance visit. We look forward to working with the IPSG to ensure this fishery has no or minimum impact on cetaceans in Irish waters

Dr Simon Berrow,

IWDG Co-ordinator

A copy of the final assessm