Mackerel go offline
THEY are regarded as something of a staple catch for local fishermen, professional and recreational alike...
But it has emerged that mackerel, which were once plentiful in Jersey’s waters, are in scarce supply this year.
Fishing boats are, according to local fishermen, coming back with catches they can count on the fingers of one hand rather than the overflowing holds of the past.
And the shortage means that prices are now far higher than they were.
‘There does not seem to be many,’ said Mick Ward, aka Mr Fish, who owns a tackle shop at First Tower. ‘It’s been getting slowly and steadily worse every year, but this year it is pretty dire.’
Mr Ward said all the local fishermen were talking about the decline, although no one really knows what is causing it.
Some have speculated it could be related to plastic pollution in the water, but dolphins and mass commercial fishing are also being blamed.
‘The super-trawlers are horrific,’ Mr Ward said. ‘They find the shoal, track it and take every single fish.’
The president of the Jersey Fishermen’s Association, Don Thompson, said that while it was true there were very few mackerel being caught at the moment, the fish migrate huge distances and may yet return later this year.
However, Mr Thompson said he was told by French fishermen during meetings last week that they were not finding mackerel deeper into the English Channel either.
That does not, however, necessarily mean that the stock is in a perilous state, he added.
‘Everybody likes things to happen right on cue,’ he said. ‘But it does not always work like that on the high seas.’
While there were concerns last year about Dutch, German and Norwegian super-trawlers pulling mackerel in the English Channel, they have not been seen this year.
‘They took a lot last year, we don’t like to see that happening but it is not at the point where we can point a finger at that,’ he said. ‘And they are not there this year.’
States marine and coastal manager Paul Chambers said it was too early to say whether mackerel numbers would be lower this year, as Fisheries statistics tend to lag about three months behind.
‘Mackerel are a seasonal migratory fish that come into our waters from the Atlantic during the spring and summer months,’ he said. ‘This and the time lag in the landing data means we won’t know what this year’s catches are like until the autumn. Also, being a migratory fish, the abundance each year will vary considerably with there being good years, bad years and average years. We are not sure what sort of a year we have now.’
Mr Ward agreed that fish were highly unpredictable ‘funny creatures’ and that it might not be time to count the mackerel out just yet.
‘We were used to being able to buy a carrier bag full for a few quid,’ he said. ‘Now you’d only get a couple.’
But he added that there were once major concerns that bream were gone from Jersey waters and now those fish have returned.
Even if local mackerel counts are lower this year, Mr Chambers said that would not necessarily tell the whole story, as Jersey’s wet fish fleet is small and the ban on bass fishing has seen a corresponding drop in the numbers of rays and mackerel caught.
‘The past few years’ mackerel landings have been around the three tonne mark annually, which is tiny in comparison to the thousands of tonnes landed elsewhere in Europe,’ he said. ‘In addition to this, the recreational fishing sector takes around 22,000 fish a year [based on a 2015 survey] making it the most targeted fish species in Jersey waters.’