The Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation (KFO), which represents the majority of Ireland’s pelagic fishermen, has welcomed the findings of an assessment workshop on the northeast Atlantic mackerel stock.

The results, published by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES), are based on a review of the methods used in the 2018 mackerel stock assessment. Each year, ICES provides fisheries catch advice for this stock.

ICES uses catch and biological data (e.g. maturity or weight of individual fish) and surveys that indicate trends in abundance over time to prepare a stock assessment.

Given the size and dynamic nature of its migration, scientists use tagging data to obtain information on the Northeast Atlantic stock.

Atlantic mackerel migrate seasonally from spawning areas west of Ireland to feeding grounds in the Norwegian Sea, around Iceland and Greenland.

Catch advice (based on two reference points) for 2019 was 42% lower than 2018; the September 2018 assessment using tagging data however indicates a stronger influence on results than when first used in 2017.

It is proposed that ICES will use this new assessment method in the autumn assessment to provide catch advice for the stock in 2020.

Industry reaction

Sean O’Donoghue, chief executive of the KFO said the inter-benchmark report shows a “major change” in the perception of the stock:

“It proves the KFO’s comments (when ICES advised a massive 68% cut last year) were wholly accurate and fully justified. It now transpires that the stock size is much larger than ICES advised in September of last year.

“We are now dealing with 4.16 million tonnes of a stock size as opposed to 2.35 million tonnes, as ICES had informed us last autumn.”

Last December, O’Donoghue challenged ICES advice that stated this fishery had been declining since 2011.

“This is totally contrary to the entire fishing industry view. The new report shows a completely different picture with the mackerel stock continuing to increase in size until 2015 and still at a very high level well above the reference points.”

O’Donoghue continued that ICES “didn’t have a fit-for-purpose quality assurance system in place, and called for the issue to be addressed:

“This new information is a thorough vindication of our position…the next crucial step is that ICES issues revised 2019 mackerel advice as a matter of urgency…”