Fishing has been an important source of food since the early days of mankind. Countless people depend on fishers that work far away from home on dangerous seas to provide healthy food. Full of passion that is often passed down from generation to generation. However, this story is often distorted by messages about fishing without the right context. That is why, at the start of the pelagic fishing season in the Channel, we would like to tell you our story.
Pelagic fish are seasonally abundant in specific areas. This also means that the quality of some pelagic fish species is much better at certain times and in specific areas than in other places. PFA members want to provide the best quality of fish. Especially because the vast majority of this fish ends up in places where it makes a huge contribution to food security as the healthiest and most affordable form of daily healthy protein.
That is why a lot of PFA members’ vessels will be fishing in the English Channel in the coming weeks: it is currently the best season to fish the Channel herring – part of the MSC-certified North Sea herring stock.
There is always a lot of attention for ‘big vessels’ fishing at this time of year. Therefore, we would like to take you with us on our Channel fishing trips the coming weeks to show you that there is more to see than just the size of the vessels:
Our vessels are big and can catch a lot of fish. This is true, but it should be added that the stocks that our vessels fish for are also huge. PFA members are specialized in fishing pelagic fish, such as herring, mackerel and blue whiting. These pelagic species are known to migrate through the water column (between the seabed and the surface) in huge numbers and from stocks that constitute a massive biomass. Shoals can be as big as the island of Malta.
Each year, independent fisheries scientists advise on how much fish can be fished sustainably and responsibly. Managers (the national administrations) use this scientific advice as a basis for determining how much can be fished: the Total Allowable Catch (TAC) for each stock for the next calendar year.
For example, the leading independent scientific body for fisheries, the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES), advises that almost 32% more North Sea herring can be fished in 2024 than in 2023, i.e. 532 166 tonnes from the 1 480 607 tonnes of the spawning biomass. Strict EU quotas ensure that EU vessels cannot catch more than is ecologically responsible.
Despite concerns by some that large vessels or “supertrawlers” are less sustainable than smaller vessels, there is in fact a very sustainable story behind the size of our vessels.
Freezer trawlers are very innovative and efficient. Because pelagic fish swim in huge, homogeneous shoals, vessels from PFA members can fish very selectively. Thanks to the high-tech equipment such as sonar, and the experience of the crew, pelagic fishing is more than 99% selective.
Then there is the question of why freezer trawlers are bigger than other vessels. It’s actually very simple: they are unique for the processing and freezing space onboard, which makes up around 70% of the vessel’s size. This onboard freezing, packaging and storage helps to reduce the carbon footprint of the fishing operation. Many studies indicate that pelagic fish have one of the very lowest CO2 emissions of all animal protein productions.
The scale of pelagic fishing makes it a matter of teamwork: on average 35-50 crew members brave the elements to catch and store the fish. It is hard, but rewarding work.
Science-based quotas are important to keep fish stocks healthy, and PFA members fish within the allocated quotas set by the European Union. Pelagic fishing is also one of the most tightly controlled fishing activities in the world. Because pelagic vessels are fewer in number than small-scale vessels – PFA members have 17 freezer trawlers in total – they are more easily monitored. PFA members’ vessels are regularly inspected at sea by the fisheries control authorities of EU Member States.
The PFA and its members highlight the importance of this to ensure that future generations can also benefit from the sea as a source of food and income.
In pelagic fishing, it is an economic necessity to apply economies of scale due to the very large volumes involved and tough international competition in the seafood market, but this has a lot of positive impact on global food security. As a result, the price of pelagic fish is very low and affordable.
Around 90 percent of our fish goes to markets outside Europe, especially to African countries where food security is not always certain. On a daily basis, PFA members provide around 5 million meals of fish per day in countries where there is the greatest need for affordable food. Pelagic fish also is very healthy because it contains high-quality proteins, vitamins, and minerals, together with high levels of Omega 3 fatty acids that are an essential part of a healthy diet.
Keep an eye on our online channels in the coming weeks to learn more about these topics and our fishing activities in the Channel!
Learn more about our 5 topics of the Pelagic Picture:
Date Posted: 16th November 2023