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Northeast Atlantic mackerel quota increase proposed, but EU28 holding back


Recent surveys have made ICES increase its mackerel TAC advise for the North Atlantic. However, the European Union (Member Organization) seems to be holding back. Earlier, ICES had also increased its advice for the herring quota by 38 percent to more than 418 000 tonnes. If the ICES advice is followed, supplies of both mackerel and herring will improve, and prices would be likely to fall.


Research cruises in the North Atlantic, from the southern tip of Greenland to Svalbard and all along the coast of Norway, found large stocks of mackerel in some areas. Six research vessels participated in the survey and travelled more than 22 000 km gathering data. Stock calculations and quota advice for mackerel will be given to the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES). The survey registered a few very large trawl catches of mackerel in the northern and northwestern areas, especially in the Jan Mayen zone and southwest of Svalbard. There were small mackerel catches registered along the entire Norwegian coast from Hordaland to Finnmark and also in the open seas between northeastern Norwegian Sea and the western Barents Sea. These cruises also found that the Norwegian spring-spawning herring returned to the northern Norwegian Sea after many years of absence. 

ICES recommends a 20 percent increase in the mackerel total allowable catch (TAC). Recent research cruises in the North Atlantic suggest large stocks of mackerel in the north. A “mackerel war” is developing between the EU28 on one side and Iceland and Greenland on the other. Iceland and Greenland have set unilateral quota and the dispute has led to the suspension of the MSC certificate for this fishery. The EU28 is threatening to sanction Iceland and Greenland for unilaterally setting their own mackerel quotas for 2020. Iceland intends to increase its quota from 108 000 tonnes to 140 000 tonnes, while Greenland plans to increase its quota by 18 percent to just over 70 000 tonnes.
The EU28, Norway and the Faroe Islands have set mackerel quotas through negotiations for the last five years, but they have kept Iceland out of these negotiations and have given only a small allocation of the quota to countries outside this agreement.

This quarrel has led the MSC to suspend its certificate for the Northeast Atlantic mackerel fishery on 2 March 2019. This happened in spite of the ICES advice, which in May set the new catch advice for 2019 of increasing from the 318 403 tonnes set in October 2018 to 770 358 tonnes. Since there was no common agreement between the EU28/Norway/Faroe Islands on the one hand and Iceland and Greenland on the other, the MSC felt that one could not conclude that “the management agency can and will act effectively and in a timely manner to reduce exploitation rate if the point of recruitment impairment is approached.”

Japanese import prices for frozen mackerel have been on an upward trend since the beginning of 2018. This trend continued during the review period. The average import price for frozen mackerel was JPY 254 per kg, up by 20 percent compared to the same period in 2018. Mackerel imports into Japan during the first half of 2019 amounted to 36 800 tonnes, a 17 percent more than in the same period in 2018. The value of these imports increased by 40 percent. As much as 88 percent of the import volume came from Norway, 7 percent from Ireland and 3 percent from Denmark.

Norway is targeting China as a growth market for its mackerel exports. The NSC recently stated they plan to stimulate demand for Norwegian mackerel in China by positioning it as one of the healthiest food products in the market. In 2018, Norway exported 53 000 tonnes of mackerel to China, but most of this was processed and re-exported to Japan. Only about 8 000 tonnes were estimated to be consumed in China. Recently, several importers have shown interest in importing Norwegian mackerel for consumption in China, and trade statistics support the strategy outlined by NSC. During the first six months of 2019, about 14 700 tonnes of frozen mackerel were exported to China, some 63 percent more than in the same period in 2018.


The New England Fishery Management Council (NEFMC) is considering a new framework to adjust the Atlantic Herring Fishery Management Plan. The herring fishery off the northeast US coast has been poor and the 2019 quota was cut dramatically. Much of this herring is used as bait for the lobster industry, so the quota reduction led to a serious shortage of bait in the lobster sector. The NEFMC is planning to work on adjusting the plan through 2020.

On 20 September about 94 percent of Norway’s 2019 North Sea herring quota had been landed, which is 107 427 tonnes of the TAC of 114 677 tonnes. Firsthand prices were good. As of 17 April, the average price for North Sea herring was NOK 5.62 per kg, up 39 percent from NOK 4.03 at the same time in 2018. At the end of July, Norwegian vessels reported very high prices for herring as fishmeal and fish oil raw material. Some catches were sold at or above NOK 5.00 per kg, higher than prices paid for herring for human consumption.


The Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries and Sustainable Development in Andalusia, Spain, has requested that the national government initiate a review of the distribution of the sardine fishing quota between Spain and Portugal. The distribution is part of the Management Plan for Sardine in Iberian Waters, which allocates 33.5 percent to Spain and 66.5 percent to Portugal. The Spanish fleet is suffering from an historical disadvantage that resulted in a smaller share of the total landings prior to the Order of 2010, which regulates the activity in the Andalusian fishery, when the present distribution was set.

The Bioman research survey, which aims to estimate the size and distribution of adult anchovy to secure the sustainable management of this resource, provisionally found that the Bay of Biscay anchovy biomass this year is about 190 000 tonnes, the second highest figure since the historical series started in 1987, and well above the 21 000 tonnes recommended as the minimum level to guarantee the sustainability of the species. The final analysis of the data and the ICES advice will take place in November.

Peru’s Ministry of Production (PRODUCE) ended the first anchovy harvesting season in the centernorth region on 31 July. At that time, over 95 percent of the 2.1 million tonne quota had been landed. Most of this catch goes to fishmeal production. In late July, PRODUCE set the quota for the second anchovy fishing season in southern Peru at 540 000 tonnes, which was almost the same as last year’s quota of 535 000 tonnes. The second season will run from July through December.

PRODUCE also set the quota for anchovies for direct human consumption at 150 000 tonnes for 2019. This quota applies across all parts of Peru. The quota may be adjusted if the Instituto del Mar del Peru (IMARPE) finds it necessary for biological or environmental reasons. Once the 150 000-tonne quota has been filled, this fishery will be stopped along the entire Peru coastline. Peru’s National Fisheries Society (SNP) has announced that it expects a decline in total landings of anchovy during the first seven months of 2019 of 22 percent compared to the same period in 2018.

During the first season, anchovy landings in the northern region were 4.6 percent lower in 2019 than
the average for the past five years.


Iceland’s capelin exports decreased by 68 percent to 6 400 tonnes during the first half of 2019, compared to 16 600 tonnes during the same period in 2018. Belarus became the largest market, taking 2 100 tonnes of the total, followed by China (1 000 tonnes) and Japan (942 tonnes). With such scarce supplies, prices shot up. The average FOB export price for Icelandic capelin increased by 61 percent, from USD 1.32 per kg in 2018 to USD 2.11 per kg in 2019.

Exports of capelin roe from Iceland also declined during the review period, from 6 300 tonnes in 2018 to 5 700 tonnes in 2019 (-11 percent). The scarcity of supplies coupled with a very good demand, pushed prices up by 105 percent, from an average of USD 5.21 per kg in 2018 to USD 10.67 per kg in 2019.


Norwegian exports of mackerel during the first half of 2019 declined 25 percent by volume to 55 600 tonnes. The main markets were China, the Republic of Korea and Japan, even though Japan registered a 38 percent decline in imports from Norway.

There were large changes in Chinese exports of frozen whole mackerel. The total volume exported increased by 48 percent to 183 100 tonnes. The main markets were Egypt (29 600 tonnes), Thailand (25 100 tonnes) and the Philippines (21 100 tonnes). There were some major changes in volumes to these three countries. During the same period of last year, Egypt had imported only 467 tonnes from China, Thailand imported 4 000 tonnes and the Philippines 32 000 tonnes.

Norwegian frozen herring exports increased by 26 percent during the first six months of 2019, from 67 200 tonnes in 2018 to 84 800 tonnes. Exports to African markets increased substantially, namely to Egypt up by 86.6 percent and to Nigeria up by 130.5 percent.

Russian Federation exports of whole frozen herring fell by 30 percent during the first half of 2019, from 117 000 tonnes in 2018 to 81 400 tonnes in 2019. Most significantly, exports to China went down by 51 percent to 45 700 tonnes, while exports to the Republic of Korea increased by over 100 percent.

Norwegian mackerel FOB export prices have been on an upward trend since early 2018. They spiked in July 2019 but fell back again in August, though the trend is still up. Prices for frozen herring fillets from Norway are declining slightly, while prices for round frozen herring had a noticeable upturn in the second quarter of 2019.


There is uncertainty about the status of Northeast Atlantic mackerel, as the EU28 and Iceland/ Greenland are in a serious dispute over quotas. If the EU28 gets its way, quotas will not be increased. However, if the advice of ICES is followed, there will be a massive increase in mackerel in 2020.

The Norwegian herring fishery is all but over for this season as most of the quotas have been filled. Prices will edge upwards. The herring fishery off North America is in dire situation and a serious adjustment of the management
of this resource will probably be announced in late 2020 or early 2021. Until then, quotas will remain low.

For South American anchovy, the quotas are about the same as for 2018, but 150 000 tonnes of Peru’s anchovy have been earmarked for human consumption. Total Peruvian landings of anchovy are expected to be lower in 2019 than last year. This will mainly affect the fish meal and fish oil industry.

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