Fish and Shellfish Stocks: 2015 Edition

Information on the state of fish and shellfish stocks of commercial importance to the Scottish fleet, inclduing Total Allowable Catches (TACs) for each stock.

Northeast Atlantic Mackerel Stocks (combined southern, western and north sea spawning components)

Mackerel ( Scomber scombrus) is the most important pelagic species for the Scottish fishing industry. It is caught predominantly with pelagic trawl mainly in western waters and the North Sea.

2015 position: UK share 247,296 tonnes

Last Year: 290,850 tonnes

Landed into Scotland in 2013: 160,118 tonnes

Value for 2013: £67 million


The mackerel ( Scomber scombrus) caught by the Scottish pelagic fleet belong to two different stocks - the North Sea and the western. This separation is based on differences in the timing and the areas used for spawning. North Sea mackerel overwinter in the deep water to the east and north of Shetland and on the edge of the Norwegian Deep. In the springtime, they migrate south to spawn in the central part of the North Sea from May until July. The western mackerel stock is found near to the continental slope, over a vast area. These fish spawn between March and July, mainly to the south and west of the UK and Ireland. When spawning is finished, most of the spent fish move to the feeding grounds in the Norwegian Sea and the northern North Sea where they mix with the North Sea stock. Some western stock mackerel, predominantly small individuals, also enter the North Sea through the English Channel. The western stock mackerel travel long distances between the feeding grounds and the spawning areas. Over the past twenty years, the pattern of their southerly migration has changed dramatically in both timing and route. In the 1970s and 1980s this movement occurred in late summer and autumn, with the fish passing through the relatively shallow waters of the Minch. Now the migration occurs gradually later in the year and is further offshore. The pattern of the return northerly journey, after spawning, has remained relatively constant. The boundaries of the spawning areas have also slowly changed, with an increase in spawning activity in the north of the area and to the west of the shelf edge.

By the time they reach three years old, most mackerel are mature. At one year old, only a small proportion of females are mature and able to spawn, while more than half can spawn at two years old. Female mackerel shed their eggs in about twenty separate batches over the course of a spawning season. An average-sized fish produces around 250,000 eggs. Juvenile mackerel grow quickly and can reach 22cm after one year and 30cm after two years.

The diet of mackerel can vary with the area and the season. By weight, almost half of the food consists of crustacea (shrimps). The remainder is made up of juvenile fish such as sandeel, herring and Norway pout.

Spawning Grounds and 2013 distribution of Landings by Scottish Vessels (tonnes)

ICES Advice on Management

Information Source: ICES advice September 2014

Quoted text in italics

Northeast Atlantic Mackerel Stocks

State of stock and advice

  • Catches of mackerel have been increasing since 2005 and have been around 900kt since 2010.
  • The mackerel egg survey index shows a doubling of the SSB since 2004 and a 30% increase from 2010 to 2013.
  • Recent landings have been stable and the stock appears to have increased.

Advice is based on catch, assuming discards are negligible. The ICES assessment is based on a combination of landings and partial discard data, so the assessment does not represent only landings and cannot be used to give landings advice. Overall ICES considers the amount of discards to be negligible

  • The benchmark assessment was carried out in February 2014 and considered alternative models. The assessment now uses an analytical age-based assessment model ( SAM) including new tuning series in addition to the egg survey index which provides an index of SSB.

Note: ICES advises on the basis of the Norway, Faroe Islands, and EU management plan that catch in 2015 should be between 831,000 tonnes and 906,000 tonnes. EU, Norway, and the Faroes have approached ICES with a draft request on a revised long-term management plan evaluation. ICES is currently carrying out analyses to answer this request draft.

Management outcomes for 2015

After the negotiations between the EU, Norway, Iceland and Faroe Islands over Northeast Atlantic Mackerel, took place in November 2014, an international agreement was reached. The EU Total Allowable Catch 2015 for northeast mackerel was set at 521,689 tonnes. The UK quota was provisionally set at 247,296 tonnes.

MSY and precautionary approach reference points

(from advice released September 2014)



Management plan



SSB trigger

2.2 million t

MSY Approach

MSY Btrigger

2.36 million t



Precautionary Approach


1.84 million t


2.36 million t






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