An Irish Anglers World

Save Our Mackerel.

The traditional summer pastime of catching a few mackerel for the tea, and also a few thousand on and offshore Irish jobs are both under severe threat due to a stand off between Iceland and The Faroe Islands on one side, and Norway and the EU on the other. Piggy in the middle is the hard pressed and already heavily exploited eastern North Atlantic mackerel stock. Due to climate change and resultant warmer seas, mackerel now migrate further north into Faroese and Icelandic territorial waters. Traditionally not fished for by both countries, but each possessing a pelagic (mid water trawling) fleet which targeted blue whiting until stocks collapsed, they still have bills to pay so have now set their sights on mackerel.

A brace of summer mackerel.

To add a little perspective, we as a country are not saints when it comes to exploiting mackerel for profit. From the late 1970’s Ireland led the way in developing technology, nets, and catching methods to extract mackerel from the North Atlantic, culminating in the commissioning and construction of the Atlantic Dawn, a huge factory ship/trawler. Killybegs was the nerve centre and a whole industry to include onshore processing, ice houses, transport, and ancillary activities such as restaurants, pubs, hotels, etc, developed and thrived. Very important for Donegal and Ireland as the mackerel fleet became the jewel in the crown of Ireland’s commercial fishing sector, but seriously capable of depleting the humble mackerel.

However we were not the only country targeting the resource, Scotland and Norway (non EU) being two of the other big players. Mackerel became big business and quota was, and still is, fiercely fought for in the annual EU Fisheries negotiations. As the industry developed over the years and to conserve mackerel stocks for future generations the main players, ie, Norway and the EU came together and agreed a system whereby they divide up the recommended annual quota, set by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) between them. Up until 2010 that agreement appeared to be working OK with the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) accrediting the combined fishery as sustainable. Now with Iceland and the Faroe Islands wanting a major piece of the action the poor old mackerel ultimately is going to suffer, unless sanity prevails and a compromise arrangement centered around sharing the agreed annual quota is reached.

Ruth and Dan Hendrick share a traditional summer pastime, catching mackerel for tea.

I remember the bay off Greystones being alive with big mackerel back in the 1970’s, especially in July and August. I also am witness to the decline in numbers in direct proportion to their exploitation as the mackerel industry developed through the 1980’s. Personally, I do not hold that the current North East Atlantic mackerel stock is fished sustainably, as the MSC would have us believe, based on my experience catching mackerel in recent years, with a preponderance of juvenile (joey) mackerel present and intermittent small shoals the norm. That said, hopefully good sense will prevail and a resolution can be found to the current dispute, as said before in this column, we owe it to our grand children…

First published in the People Newspapers, July 2011.

Related topic: Hugh’s Fish Fight Campaign Update.

Related topic: Back to the Future, Restoring Ireland’s Marine Biodiversity.

See also: Where are our mackerel?