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MACKEREL STOCKS  -  HOW THEY CHANGED FROM ABUNDANCE TO SCARCITY IN THE 1970s

When I started work as a fishmonger in the 1960s mackerel were really plentiful around the British coast. Most were caught around Cornwall, although we did and do get mackerel from other waters, such as Scottish. We had plentiful supplies of mackerel, often driving down to Flushing Quay to pick them up in a Leyland refrigerated 350 EA van. It was the slowest and most heavy-to-drive vehicle, and it was in the days before the M4/M5. When the weather was bad I sold lovely frozen mackerel from Suttons of Cornwall, and thought that those days would go on forever. They sold frozen mackerel in blue waxed 1 stone cardboard boxes, fresh ones in green boxes. But then Suttons closed, something I never expected would happen.

The reason for the decline in mackerel stocks?

In the 1970s, when we had a six-mile fishing limit and only small trawlers went fishing for mackerel, the mackerel fishery was very sustainable. The mackerel caught were very large, some as big as a kilo. It seemed to me that the rest of the world was envious of this and wanted some of the action. The Russians had very large fishing boats which they placed outside the six-mile limit. They were called Klondikers after a Canadian gold rush in the 1890s. Irish and Scottish fishermen were only too eager to catch mackerel within the six-mile limit and transfer their catches to the Klondikers. If that volume of mackerel had been sold on the home market it would have been worthless because there was just too much for sale, and we didn’t need them, it was already possible to buy cheap mackerel at ports such as Flushing Quay, from home boats.

Boatload after boatload of mackerel were taken to the Klondikers. Once on board the mackerel were frozen.

It took something like seven years to destroy the mackerel stocks. Like Suttons in Penzance, many of the ports that dealt in mackerel declined – the fishermen’s buildings in Flushing Quay are now a café. The government did nothing, even though the subject was debated in Parliament.

There are boats still catching lovely Cornish mackerel, but obviously from smaller stocks. Mackerel this week (early July 2018) rose to £10 a kilo to buy on the market, that’s probably  because in the calm seas the mackerel could see the nets coming.

So, to sum up, mackerel was the most plentiful, cheapest fish, the one that children could catch with a rod and a hook. It has never made a comeback from overfishing and I doubt it ever will.

The mackerel that were caught only went for fertilizer. It was greed that destroyed a whole industry, and the government should have stopped it.

Some MPs have farms, but none have fishing boats.