Petits pélagiques

Atlantic mackerel quota advice sharply up

CES has revised its catch advice for Northeast Atlantic mackerel upwards by over 140 percent. While the quotas have not formally been adjusted yet, they may be soon. Iceland has already increased its quota by 30 percent. This could have a negative effect on prices.


In May, ICES revised its 2019 catch advice for northeast Atlantic mackerel. The new catch advice was set at 770 358 tonnes, more than double the previous advice of 318 403 tonnes set in October 2018. The main reason for this change was a modification in the assessment method used. The fishery was certified by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), but got its certification suspended in March this year.

The new assessment may cause the certification to be re-instated, but observers are uncertain, since the suspension was based on both stock status and management of the resource and the management has not been changed. However, the suspension of the MSC certification has had little market impact so far. Even with such a dramatic increase in the stock assessment, it is far from certain that the quotas will be increased. These were set in an agreement between the coastal states last year. Canada’s DFO has cut its quota for Atlantic mackerel by 20 percent to 8 000 tonnes for 2019. As much of this catch is used for bait for the lobster fishing sector, it is mainly the lobster sector that will be affected by this cut.

When the Russian Federation imposed a ban on imports of western seafood back in the summer of 2014, European exporters of pelagic fish found one of their largest markets disappearing overnight. The Russian Federation was at that time Norway’s largest market for herring. Only the Faroe Islands were able to export to the Russian Federation, and substantially increased shipments there. Since 2014, the Russian Federation has built up its own fleet, both in the pelagic sector and in groundfish sector, and presently the country is largely self-sufficient. What this means for the former big suppliers to the Russian Federation, is that even if this market were to re-open tomorrow, Norwegians and Danes would probably not be able to recapture their market shares there.

While the Russian Federation previously imported a lot of pelagic fish from the Atlantic, much of their own production is now focusing on the Pacific. Herring, mackerel and capelin from the Pacific have taken over market share from the Atlantic species, and consumers seem happy with this. Previously, consumers preferred seafood from Norway and Iceland, but they now prefer domestic seafood. The new focus on Pacific pelagic seafood may also provide an opportunity to open new markets for Russian Federation seafood in Asia. Atlantic mackerel and herring are presently expensive, while Pacific fish costs less, which gives it an advantage in the market.

Norwegian mackerel exports dropped by 45 percent to 27 400 tonnes during the first quarter of 2019. Exports to the Republic of Korea dropped from 7 200 tonnes to 3 300 tonnes, and to Japan from 4 700 tonnes to 2 600 tonnes. 50 GLOBEFISH Highlights | July 2019 Mackerel has become a trendy food in Japan and in the Republic of Korea, and consumers have had a preference for Norwegian mackerel.

The Norwegian Seafood Council (NSC) is continuing its drive to promote Norwegian mackerel in these countries. In 2018, Japan and the Republic of Korea imported 90 000 tonnes of mackerel from Norway worth NOK 1.5 billion (USD 176.9 million). China is also an important market for Norwegian mackerel. In 2018, China imported 41 000 tonnes of mackerel from Norway, but much of this went to processing and re-exports. During the first quarter of 2019, Norwegian whole frozen mackerel to China amounted to 6 420 tonnes, up from 6 072 tonnes in the same period in 2018.

Chinese exports of whole frozen mackerel increased by 26.7 percent during the review period. The main destinations were Thailand (up over 500 percent to 18 000 tonnes), Nigeria (up 106 percent to 14 600 tonnes) and the Philippines (down one third to 13 100 tonnes). Frozen mackerel prices have been rising slowly since the beginning of 2018. Large operators in the mackerel market expect prices, which are already at an all-time high, to remain high for the rest of the year. Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom have already caught most of their quota, while Norway still has most of its quota left to catch.


ICES recommended a 120 000 tonne increase in the 2020 quota for North Sea herring. This means that the quota advice is 431 062 tonnes, up from the earlier ICES advice of 311 572 tonnes for 2019. The actual TAC for 2019 was set at 385 008 tonnes. However, scientists warn that one might expect a reduction in stock size in the coming years. This is largely because surveys have revealed that the spawning stock is at its lowest level since 1996. The European Union (Member Organization) and Norway will set the actual fishing quotas later.

The Canadian fleet landed more than 78 percent of the catch quota for Pacific herring with eggs by the beginning of April, when 14 100 tonnes had already been landed. Environmental groups are calling for a close of this fishery, claiming that it is threatening both Chinook salmon and killer whales. The DFO have stated that the herring stocks are healthy, but the environmental groups are suggesting to leave the herring in the sea for the salmon stocks to recover and “the killer whales to have enough food”. Norwegian herring catches were slow in the beginning of June, and the size and quality of the herring was disappointing. In the Norwegian zone, the fish was small and spread out, so Norwegian vessels were searching for better results in the EU28 zone.

Norwegian herring exports increased by almost 55 percent to 65 100 tonnes during the first quarter compared to the same period last year. Egypt was the main market and doubled its imports of Norwegian herring, from 12 100 tonnes in 2018 to 25 900 tonnes in 2019. Nigeria also imported much more Norwegian herring in the first quarter of 2019, up from 2 500 tonnes in 2018 to 8 700 tonnes in 2019. Russian Federation exports of whole frozen herring dropped from 64 800 tonnes during the first three months of 2018 to 51 600 tonnes during the same period in 2019. Most of this drop was due to a massive 42 percent decline in exports to China. Exports to the Republic of Korea and Nigeria increased. Whole frozen herring prices, which have been on a declining trend for the past two years, picked up a little in the beginning of this year, while prices for frozen herring fillets are declining.


The Pacific sardine resource has been seriously overfished during the past 7–10 years, according to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). A recent stock assessment showed that the biomass was estimated at only 27 547 tonnes, far below the 150 000 tonnes that is considered necessary to reopen the sardine fishery on the Pacific coast. Not surprisingly, not everyone agrees with this assessment. Fishers claim that the assessment does not reflect the actual stock. The sardine biomass peaked at 1.8 million tonnes in 2006.

In addition to being overfished, it has also been the prey of a multitude of marine wildlife along the coast. In Peru, the first fishing season of the anchoveta in the north-central area started on 4 May. The quota was set at 2.1 million tonnes according to the recommendation by the Institute of the Sea of Peru (IMARPE). The season will last until the quota has been caught, or when IMARPE decides to end it for environmental or biological reasons. In June, the anchovy fishing was banned for a period of 10 days, and the ban was extended for another 10 days in early July. This decision was based on an IMARPE report on the maximum catch limit of the fishery in the northcentral region.


Iceland registered a strong decline in its capelin exports during the first four months of 2019. Total exports were down by 50 percent, to 5 200 tonnes worth USD 10.2 million. The sharpest drop was registered for the largest markets Japan (-84 percent by value) and China (-67 percent by value). There is no capelin fishing in the Barents Sea this year, and this has hurt several fishing companies, especially in the Russian Federation. Capelin is fished for fishmeal production and for human consumption, and Russians are fond of capelin. The outlook for next year is also bleak, to say the least. Fishing companies expect the fishery to be closed in 2020 also, but the final decision will only be taken in October or November, when the Joint Norwegian-Russian Fishery Commission meets.


The supply situation for Atlantic mackerel could change dramatically if authorities take the advice from ICES and increase this year’s quota substantially. However, this is still uncertain. An increase could affect prices, which are high at the moment. Supplies of mackerel will be limited for the rest of the year, and prices are expected to stay high. Herring supplies could also be increased substantially, but not until 2020, and in the longer term, herring supplies are expected to decline. With herring prices on a slightly downward trend, they could slide further down over the next twelve months.

The Russian Federation increased its domestic production of small pelagics, and since it is not likely to re-open its market to the West, and because domestic production has replaced imports, new markets have to be developed for Atlantic herring. Pacific supplies of small pelagics are uncertain. Peru introduced a ban on anchovy fishing just one month after the opening of the season. In North America, the Pacific sardine stocks are in bad shape, allowing no exploitation at all.