Herring has a very special place in Norwegian culture. That is why when it comes to managing our stocks and ensuring the best quality, nothing is left to chance.
Herring is one of the most fished wild species in the world, which means responsible harvesting is both crucial and complex.
Atlanto-Scandian herring, of which all commercial Norwegian herring is part, comprises of many different stocks in many different geographical zones. In Norway, our herring fisheries focus primarily on two, spring spawning herring and North Sea herring. Both are considered harvested sustainably and at full reproductive capacity by the International Council for the Explorations of the Sea (ICES).
In December 2020, the Marine Stewardship Council suspended the certification for Norwegian Spring Spawning but it is important to know it was not because the Norwegian herring stock is in a bad shape.
Why was the MSC certification suspended for Norwegian Spring Spawning herring?
The suspension of the MSC certificate has nothing to do with the underlying condition of the herring stock. It is the result of a lack of an agreement between the coastal states participating in the fishery.
In fact, the Norwegian Spring Spawning herring stock is very healthy. The International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) makes clear in its latest advice, from 2020, that the stock is responsibly managed and that it is in full reproductive capacity.
The ICES offers independent advice on the health of fisheries and it actually recommends an increase of 24 percent in the total allowable catch of Norwegian spring spawning herring for 2021.
Why is there no agreement?
Joint fishery agreements are key for Norway, but we are at the same time dependent on the other participating countries to reach an agreement. For Norwegian spring spawning herring however, such an agreement has unfortunately not been reached, the result being that the fishery does not meet one of the three criteria of the MSC certificate.
The Norwegian spring spawning herring stock has been thoroughly documented as sustainable by ICES, and Norway does not and will not take risks with the health of its fisheries. We have a good track record when it comes to fisheries management and have many decades of experience in protecting our seas and our fish. In fact, when the UN reported on the management policies of the world’s fisheries nations, it named Norway as a leader and pioneer on environmental issues. Read more about what the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) says about Norwegian fisheries.
How does Norway ensure its herring is sustainable?
Sustainability is at the heart of everything we do – from our modern management systems and regulatory bodies, to our diverse fishing fleet. We know that this is the only way to secure the future of our fish stocks and we take pride in the fact that our holistic approach safeguards not just herring stocks and other key species but the ecosystem as a whole.
Our focus is on world class scientific research to ensure we have the most up-to-date information on the health of the seas, the right equipment to make sure fish are not caught before they can thrive and spawn, and regulation and enforcement. Norway has been a world leader in regulating and protecting its seas and everything we do is guided by research and science.
What laws are in place to protect herring?
Norway is a pioneer in protecting fish stocks. We were the first country in the world to begin a quota system for important species and in the 1980s took radical steps to introduce new laws to ensure the health of our seas for future generations. We began a fisheries management policy that involves opening and closing fishing grounds as necessary to protect fish; we have controls on everything from net size to fishing equipment to both reduce bycatch and to make sure fish are able to grow and spawn before being caught; and we implemented a ban on discards in 1987. That is more than three decades of protecting the seas by law. To put all that into perspective, the EU implemented a ban on discards in 2019.
How are these laws enforced?
Laws are only as good as their enforcement and in Norway a number of different bodies take responsibility for ensuring fishing policies are followed. The Norwegian Coast Guard spends around 70 percent of its resources making sure fishing activities are carried out at the right time, in the right areas and with the right equipment. The Norwegian Directorate of Fisheries carries out regular inspections of foreign and Norwegian fishing vessels arriving in port and at sea. The result is healthy fish stocks and very few cases of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing for herring in our waters.
What other methods are employed to protect herring stocks?
The laws we have, the quotas we set and herring we enjoy are all guided by science. Research vessels go out to sea and scientists look at the fish that are caught. Spawning herring, which travel great distances over the course of their lives, are tracked with sonar and we know where our fish are caught. Quotas revised down, or minimum fish sizes set as needed to safeguard stocks for the future. Norway’s research bodies monitor the seas to make sure that resources are harvested in a sustainable manner, watching for climate change and advising on regulation to protect the ecosystem. They also conduct research into the value of seafood as part of the human diet – with herring offering a very healthy option.
What is the result?
What all this means is that Norwegian herring is sustainable from sea to plate. Our management and monitoring process is based on long-term thinking. This enables us to safeguard our fish stocks and protect the industry and our coastal communities. Every step of our fishing process – from catching to selling – is rigorously managed through quotas and concessions and monitored through surveillance and controls. Through this, we are ensuring that future generations will benefit from the resources we’ve been so fortunate to enjoy.