MACKEREL is, traditionally, a resource in Scottish waters which has sustained fishing communities for centuries.
But according to the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) it is a stock which is no longer being fished sustainably and therefore they cannot certify it as a fish available for mass consumption.
This matters because supermarket chains, following consumer demand, will only sell fish which carries an MSC mark of approval. But mackerel is also a fish, following another consumer trend, which is full of beneficial Omega-3 fatty acids and therefore has become more popular.
Consumption of mackerel, however, is not what concerns the MSC. The problem is that the shoals, probably as a result of an increase in ocean temperatures and the consequent migration north of the small fish and crustaceans which they eat, have moved out of their traditional habitats and into Icelandic and Faroese waters. Fishermen from these countries, whose economies are struggling, have fallen delightedly on this unexpected bonanza and have been netting them vigorously. To some extent, this is understandable but their catches are outside the internationally agreed catch limits which, pre-northwards migration, were mainly set within the EU common fisheries policy.
There is thus some fury amongst Scottish fishermen that they are apparently being asked to pay the price for what they see as a fishing form of piracy. Equally there is indignation in Iceland and Faroe that the EU wants to stop them benefitting from what nature has provided.
Preserving the biodiversity of the sea is important for future generations. We know that from the disappearance of cod through over-fishing..
Fishing is a classic example of what economists know as the law of the commons. A resource to which everyone has common access to exploit is sustainable so long as everybody obeys agreed rules. But the moment one person tries to bend the rules to gain an advantage, everyone throws the rulebook out and the common resource yields a brief bonus but then becomes exhausted.
Clearly a new rulebook is needed to manage mackerel catching, one which recognises that the geography of the resource has changed and that there are new players whose catching rights should be respected. This seems straightforward enough, but Iceland is in the throes of negotiating entry to the EU which involves acceptance of the common fisheries policy and its rules of historic catching rights.
Thus if Iceland establishes that it has, in recent history at least, caught large quantities of mackerel at levels which its scientists reckon are sustainable, its claim on much larger quotas than the EU has so far offered in abortive talks will be strengthened. This is a game with only one ending – serious and possibly terminal damage to mackerel stocks. It is time for more sense, and give and take, to be applied to this problem.
A work in progress
A doubling of the number of Scottish young people out of work in the last five years to 90,000 is deeply troubling.
Thankfully, the jobless rate for 16-24 year olds has come down a little in the last year, but at 22 per cent, it still represents the waste of the energies and abilities of a fifth of the age group which should, in normal times, be the most energetic foundation for the economy of the future.
But the waste does not stop there. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation report, which has highlighted this sorry fact, also notes that the number of young people doing part-time work but who wish to be in full-time employment has risen over the same period from 50,000 to 120,000.
Recent history has shown that to be without a worthwhile job for a prolonged period at this age has severe long-term effects. People who have their hopes of being a productive member of society dashed at this early stage of their life are more likely to drift into crime and drug addiction and also to be more likely to remain in poverty.
The establishment of a commission headed by Sir Ian Wood, who has created more jobs than most in the Wood Group oil services company he built up, to examine how to deal with the problem is a welcome move by the Scottish Government.
Since Scottish businesses’ job creating ability is held back more by a world economy in low gear than anything else, it is unlikely he can come up with any instant big solutions.
But equally, a series of small improvements in the process of integrating young people into the world of work can also add up to a big change.