The International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) is a network of scientists from over 20 member countries including Ireland which provides advice on catch levels through a collaborative process by scientists from around the world including those from the Marine Institute here in Ireland.
Mackerel is Ireland's most important fishery economically and a healthy mackerel stock is essential for the Irish pelagic fleet and pelagic processing industry.
As a result of requests from Ireland and others, a series of ICES expert meetings were convened to an ‘inter-benchmark' – essentially a methodology review. Those meetings have now produced a report which proposes that a new assessment method should be applied to the mackerel stock.
ICES have now confirmed that they will proceed to review the 2019 advice utilising this new method with a view to publication before the 15th of May. It is not expected that the overall Total Allowable Catch (TAC) already agreed for 2019 will change in consequence of this new advice. Instead it is expected to confirm the TAC setting precautionary approach set down in the agreed Long Term Management Strategy adopted by the Coastal States which applied a 20% reduction for 2019.
Separately, catch advice for the stock for 2020 is due to be published by ICES in late September of this year following analysis of additional survey data to be gathered in the coming months.
When the ICES Mackerel advice for 2019 was published, I sought the views of the Marine Institute who advised that, while there was a rigorous analytical process conducted by ICES, there were some serious concerns regarding the relative weighting of some of the data inputs that were utilised. These concerns were also acknowledged by ICES.
Throughout the autumn, Ireland, working in cooperation with other interested Member States, sought an urgent review by ICES of the data inputs used in reaching their conclusions on the catch advice. Other Coastal States, as well as ICES themselves, supported this review.
The Mackerel Coastal States (EU, Norway, Faeroes, Iceland, Russia and Greenland) representatives are scheduled to meet following the publication of the new 2019 advice in May. Ireland, as always, will be represented by officials from my Department.