While much work still remains to be done, Scottish Pelagic Sustainability Group (SPSG) chairman John Goodlad says the Group should take considerable pride in its achievements so far and the Scottish pelagic sector can look to the future with confidence.
SPSG, which represents those involved in the catching, processing and marketing of herring, mackerel and blue whiting, says it is committed to a sustainable future by continuing to develop its programme of responsible fishing initiatives.
‘Our founding principle a decade or so ago was to ensure the Scottish pelagic sector was at the forefront of environmental responsibility and sustainable harvesting,’ he said. ‘We were determined to be leaders in the field and show the world that Scottish caught and processed pelagic fish follows best practice procedures at all stages of the supply chain.’
Since its formation in late 2006, the principal goal of the Group has been to bring all of its fisheries under the umbrella of the independently certified Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) eco-label scheme confirming their status as sustainable and well-managed.
This significant landmark has now been achieved following the recent MSC certification of the North East Atlantic blue whiting fishery, joining other SPSG fisheries that are part of the MSC programme including mackerel, North Sea herring, West of Scotland herring and Atlanto-Scandian herring. In volume terms, this represents an annual fish catch of around 250,000 tonnes.
Some of these fisheries have been certified for several years, including North Sea herring (currently undergoing its third recertification) and Atlanto-Scandian herring, which has just been recertified for a second time.
Ian Gatt, secretary of SPSG, commented that a key element of the MSC programme in recent years has been the work of the Group in driving forward joint certification with the other like-minded nations that share these international pelagic fisheries with Scotland.
‘This brings tangible benefits by bringing all stakeholders into the programme, which ensures the sustainability of the fisheries and fosters a positive spirit of co-operation,’ he said.
As well as full participation in the MSC programme, SPSG is involved in a number of other responsible fishing initiatives, including a catch-sampling scheme to ensure vessels avoid catching juvenile fish.
Furthermore, SPSG sits on the MSC Stakeholder Council and is one of the lead founders of the Association of Sustainable Fisheries (ASF) – a global organisation whose members are all MSC certified. ASF was set up to help advise the MSC in the development of its work and also ensure informed debate on fisheries with environmental NGOs and other organisations.
According to John Goodlad, SPSG is keen to explore other initiatives that will promote stock conservation and ensure a sustainable food future for Scottish pelagic fish. This includes increased participation in scientific monitoring programmes to provide better understanding of fish stock dynamics.
‘There is a tremendous good news story to tell about our pelagic fisheries,’ John Goodlad said. ‘They are, for example, probably the lowest carbon footprint form of protein production around. Pelagic fish such as mackerel and herring also taste great and are healthy to eat. The pelagic sector supports many jobs and is a significant contributor to the Scottish economy. With the right support we believe there is good scope to develop new markets for our products – especially since consumers can buy Scottish pelagic fish in the knowledge that it is sustainably caught.’