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Experts sound the alarm over growing issue with mackerel: 'There are loads more seafood options out there'

In 2023, the Marine Conservation Society changed the mackerel's rating from green to amber.

Mackerel downgraded because of overfishing

Photo Credit: iStock

The U.K.'s Marine Conservation Society (MCS) has downgraded mackerel from "green" to "amber" on its Good Fish Guide, meaning that its population is dwindling, the Guardian reports.

What's happening?

According to the MCS's report, mackerel makes up almost a third of the fish caught by the U.K. The fish come from the northeast Atlantic, a fishing ground shared with 16 other countries.

As the Guardian explains, the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) takes stock of the population of mackerel in the Atlantic every few years. It then issues guidelines for how many mackerel should be fished per year to keep the population stable.

According to the Guardian, all 17 countries that fish the northeast Atlantic agree that the ICES's numbers are correct and that it's important to keep fishing to recommended levels. However, because the countries can't agree on how to divide the total number, many are taking more than their share.

The Marine and Freshwater Research Institute reports that since 2010, mackerel fishing in the northeast Atlantic has outpaced recomended levels by 41% on average, damaging mackerel populations.

There are also other factors harming northeast Atlantic mackerel, the Guardian reports, like lower numbers of young fish surviving to adulthood. However, overfishing is a huge part of the problem.

Why does the overfishing of mackerel matter?

If too many fish are removed from their habitat, not enough will remain to breed and refresh the population the next year, meaning that one day soon, there could be too few mackerel to feed the nations that rely on them. If this happens, the species might never recover.

But if countries limit their catch to the recommended numbers, the mackerel population will stay stable from year to year and keep feeding people. This limited approach is called sustainable fishing.

Sustainable fishing ensures a steady supply of affordable food for everyone and maintains balance in the northeast Atlantic ecosystem.

What's being done about overfishing?

When the 17 countries fishing the northeast Atlantic once again failed to reach an agreement about splitting the mackerel catch in 2023, the MCS changed its Good Fish Guide rating from green to amber. "Green" means that a fish is being produced sustainably and is always a good choice for buyers, while "amber" means that they should take care, check the source, and choose alternatives when possible.

Charlotte Coombes, Good Fish Guide manager at the MCS, told the Guardian that individuals could help by eating other kinds of fish. "There are loads more seafood options out there," she said. "Sometimes it just means being a little bit creative and perhaps trying something new. But it's a way to spread the burden on our oceans."

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