Holy mackerel! We can’t buy that fish, warn supermarket giants

SUPERMARKETS have been urged not to panic over an international crisis threatening the Scottish mackerel industry.

SUPERMARKETS have been urged not to panic over an international crisis threatening the Scottish mackerel industry.

Three of the UK’s largest supermarket chains have revealed they will not buy Scottish mackerel until environmental certification governing its sustainability is reinstated.

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The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) which certifies that fishing is sustainable, suspended certification at the end of March after Iceland and the Faroe Islands breached mackerel fishing quotas in the northeast Atlantic. Overfishing by the two countries meant quotas were exceeded by 25 per cent in the past two years.

Sainsbury’s, Marks & Spencer and The Co-op have all taken the decision not to source more of the oily fish until the situation is resolved.

However yesterday, Ian Gatt, chief executive of the Scottish Pelagic Fishermen’s Association, said mackerel stocks were healthy and called on supermarkets to rethink their policy.

“The key message is the stock is still healthy,” he said. “It is still above the precautionary biological reference points. As long as it remains there, supermarkets should not be panicking. I don’t see the need for supermarkets to be taking this knee-jerk reaction.”

The fresh Scottish mackerel catch is worth £160 million a year to the country’s economy with 10 per cent remaining in the European Union.

“The UK is a growing market for us,” said Gatt. “It’s a product which has a lot of health benefits and the British customer likes it. It will be a shame if they don’t have the opportunity to buy it.”

Yesterday a spokeswoman for Marks & Spencer said they currently had stocks of Scottish mackerel.

“We’re waiting for a resolution to be found,” she said. “We would not sell non-certified mackerel.”

A spokesperson for The Co-operative Group said: “We sell own-brand canned and smoked mackerel from the northeast Atlantic, with our current stock caught before the MSC licence was suspended. We are committed to providing our customers with UK-sourced mackerel and are working with our suppliers to find alternative sources. However, we’re also hopeful that the work currently being undertaken to resolve this situation will mean that, by the time we need to replenish our mackerel stock levels next year, this fishery will be able to meet our criteria for responsibility-sourced fish.”

A spokeswoman for Sainsbury’s said: “In light of the MSC’s decision to remove certification, and in line with our own sustainable sourcing policies, we have taken the decision to stop sourcing from the affected fisheries pending an agreement between the parties involved.”

Mr Gatt said he was optimistic a solution would be reached before the end of the year with new scientific advice on stock levels due at the end of September: “That will give them an idea of how the stock is doing. Hopefully we can reach an agreement. The MSC has suspended certification, not withdrawn it, which makes it easier to lift the suspension and start marketing again.”

Meanwhile, it emerged that Sainsbury’s has stopped selling cigarettes in three main stores in Scotland in reaction to the Scottish Government’s tax on tobacco. The public health levy hits stores with a rateable value of more than £300,000.