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Mackerel still a catch for fish fans

By The Cornishman  |  Posted: January 24, 2013

  • Mackerel caught and ready to cook. Chris Mercer

  • Shoppers should continue to buy handline caught mackerel despite the fish being downgraded.

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IT MAY have shot to popularity as a fashionable fish dish championed by celebrity chefs such as Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall but now mackerel fishermen face their own battle to promote their catches after the fish lost its sustainable tag.

After years as the popular, sustainable choice for consumers, mackerel, famed for its high omega 3 content, was taken off the fish-to-eat list this week by the Marine Conservation Society.

The decision was made after the Marine Stewardship Council suspended its certification of the northeast Atlantic mackerel fishery.

The fishery had become overfished after Icelandic and Faroe Islands' fishermen began to catch more than was previously agreed when the fish moved into their waters.

Although west Cornish fishermen, along with others in the South West, catch only a small portion of the total catch of the fish, typically using the sustainable handline method, it is feared the bad publicity could be damaging.

Fearnley-Whittingstall was forced to abandon his campaign to get the nation to eat more mackerel following the news.

However, David Muirhead, the secretary of the South West Handline Fishermen's Association, said purchasing handline-caught mackerel in the South West will have no adverse effects on stock.

He said: "Most of the mackerel caught in the South West is taken by small vessels fishing with handlines. This is a highly sustainable method of catching fish and causes absolutely no danger to the stocks.

"People should continue to buy high-quality locally caught handline fish from their fishmonger."

The South West handline fleet has a share of 0.83 per cent of the total UK quota for mackerel or 1,750 tonnes, whatever is higher, while Scottish fleets have one of 200,000 tonnes.

An average-day catch for a handline vessel is between 100 to 200kg and fuel consumption if often as low as a few litres of fuel a day.

Andy Wheeler, from the Cornish Fish Producers' Organisation, said that 99 per cent of the Cornish mackerel fishing fleet is made up of handliners.

He added that this decision was likely to have more significance for small boat fishermen rather than the larger vessels.

St Ives MP Andrew George said that Cornish mackerel handliners should be given more support.

He said: "Of course, I regret that the Scots are in dispute with Iceland and the Faroes, but both the Marine Conservation Society and our Government should be pulling out all the stops to both protect and encourage our local handliners."

MCS fisheries officer Bernadette Clarke said consumers should look towards more sustainable ways of catching mackerel if they still wanted to buy it.

She said: "That means fish caught locally using traditional methods – including handlines, ringnets and drift nets – or from suppliers who are signatories to the principles of the Mackerel Industry Northern Sustainability Alliance."

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