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ICES quota advice for 2021: herring up, mackerel down


ICES has announced their revised advice for the 2021 quotas for the northeast Atlantic, and suggests a 24 percent increase in the herring quota and an 8 percent cut in the mackerel quota. Demand for frozen pelagics is good, partly as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, as consumers are buying frozen fish to secure supplies during difficult times.


The International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) has published its advice for the 2021 season for pelagic species in the northeast Atlantic. For mackerel, ICES proposed an 8 percent reduction in quotas to 852 284 tonnes. In 2020, total allowable catches (TAC) for mackerel in this area amounted to 1.1 million tonnes, as a result of unilateral quotas set by some countries, in addition to the negotiated quotas.

Mackerel fishing in Norwegian waters was hampered by bad weather at the end of September. Very strong winds kept the fleet tied up in port. For September as a whole, only 3 300 tonnes were landed, compared to 139 000 tonnes landed during September 2015, which was a record month. At the end of September, Norwegian vessels landed the first “winter mackerel”. The fish was caught east of Shetland, but the quality was not very good.

At the same time, Iceland wrapped up its mackerel season. The quota for Iceland was 148 400 tonnes, but at the close of the fishery, 18 900 tonnes remained of the quota. Fishers judged the season to be good, though. The landed catch was moderately higher compared to the 2019 season, when 125 500 tonnes were landed.

An international survey of the northeast Atlantic, which was completed in early August, showed that record levels of mackerel were found. The survey was performed by six research vessels from Norway, Iceland, the Faroe Islands, Greenland and Denmark. The survey’s stock index for mackerel was 7 percent higher than in 2019. While mackerel was not found in Greenlandic waters, and a strong reduction was registered for Icelandic waters, the survey found more mackerel than for several years in central and northern parts of the Norwegian Sea.

Inventories of mackerel in North Atlantic fishing nations are relatively low, and at the same time demand is good in major markets. Consequently, prices are high, although not as high as last year. In the autumn of 2019, first-hand mackerel prices to Norwegian fishermen peaked at NOK 16.00 per kg. Later, prices dropped to around NOK 13.00 per kg, which is still reasonably good. Observers now expect prices to stay around that level throughout the year. Demand for frozen mackerel is good, partly due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as consumers have been buying more frozen fish.

At the Marine Sustainability Conference organized by the National Fisheries Society in Peru in July 2020, scientists stated that there has been an increase in the biomass of jack mackerel, evidenced also by higher catches by the Peruvian fishing fleet. Information provided by Peruvian Maritime Institute of Peru( IMARPE )also supported this, pointing out that over the past two years, the jack mackerel population along the coast of Peru has increased.

Norwegian exports of frozen whole mackerel during the first half of 2020 increased by an impressive 46.1 percent compared to the same period last year, to 115 883 tonnes. Exports to the main markets, China and the Republic of Korea, increased by 8.2 and 10.4 percent only, ( to 16 161 tonnes and 12 590 tonnes, respectively) while exports to Japan went up by 45.4 percent (to 11 536 tonnes) and to other countries by 67.8 percent to 19 204 tonnes.

China’s imports of whole frozen mackerel during the first half of 2020 stayed more or less on par with the same period in 2019 at 83 000 tonnes. However, there were some major shifts among the suppliers. The Russian Federation increased shipments to China by 66 percent.


The new catch advice by ICES for the northeast Atlantic pelagic species for 2021 includes a 24 percent increase of the herring quotas, from 525 594 tonnes in 2020 to 650 033 tonnes in 2021. Since several countries set their own unilateral quotas, the total for 2020 amounted to 693 915 tonnes. By the middle of September, the Norwegian North Sea fishery for herring roe was coming to an end. By mid-September 40 000 tonnes of roe herring had been caught. Demand for herring roe has been extremely good in 2020, as have prices. This is mainly due to the fact that no capelin has been caught in Iceland or Norway this year, and therefore no capelin roe has been produced, and herring roe is the preferred substitute.

The North Sea winter herring fishery for other purposes started in week 35 (1 September ). Landings of North Sea herring have been declining since 2018, but at the same time, prices have gone up substantially. First-hand prices averaged NOK 5.43 per kg in 2019, but in 2020 they have increased to NOK 6.42 per kg.

Norwegian exports of whole frozen herring declined during the first 6 months of 2020 by 11.5 percent to 75 027 tonnes. While exports to the largest market, Egypt, declined by 1.7 percent, exports to the second largest market, the Netherlands, went up by 15.7 percent. Russian exports of whole frozen herring declined by 16.4 percent during the first half of the year, to 69 874 tonnes. The largest market was China, which took 57 338 tonnes or 82 percent of the total.

The Republic of Korea imported 62 percent less Russian herring during this period, while the Ukraine increased imports from the Russian Federation by 4.2 percent. Germany’s imports of prepared or preserved herring increased by 15.7 percent during the first half of 2020. The largest supplier, Poland, increased shipments by 23.3. percent to 18 730 tonnes or almost 79 percent of the total. The second largest supplier, Denmark, registered a decline of 8.3 percent in shipments during this period compared to the same period in 2019.


The US Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) in September voted to support a re-building plan for the northern Pacific sardine fishery. The plan includes an option to keep the maximum  quota at 4 000 tonnes per year, or to move it up or down depending on the biomass. The decision was welcomed by the commercial harvesters, who feared that a stricter alternative favoured by conservationists would be approved. Further cuts in the quota, as favoured by the conservationists, could have put a number of companies out of business. The Pacific sardine fishery has a long history on the US west coast, and production of canned sardines in this region have been going on for more than a century.

Peru’s Production Ministry (PRODUCE) in early August opened the anchovy fishery season for the south region, with a capture limit of 435 000 tonnes. The anchovy fishery in Peru is divided into a north-central and a south zone, and these have different capture limits and seasons. The northcentral fishery closed on 15 August after a very successful season, landing almost 100 percent of the 2.41 million tonne capture limit. The south region season will run through 31 December 2020. The European Union’s imports of frozen sardines from Morocco appears to be more or less on par with imports in 2019. A total of 20 627 tonnes were imported from 1 January through 6 September, an increase of almost 1 percent compared to the same period of 2019. The average import value increased by 20 percent in September.


Supplies of herring will increase in 2021, while supplies of mackerel might decline a little. ICES’s advice is clear, but it is not the final word. Normally, the final quotas tend to be higher than what ICES suggests. Mackerel prices are likely to rise further, while herring prices will most likely remain stable or perhaps decline a little. Demand for both species is good. Herring roe is in very good demand because of the lack of capelin roe on the market. As capelin fisheries are banned both in Norway and Iceland for 2021, no capelin roe is likely to enter the market next year, thus herring roe is in great demand, and prices are high.

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