Marine Institute and BIM collaborate with pelagic sector to capture Northeast Atlantic mackerel data

Marine Institute and BIM collaborate with pelagic sector to capture Northeast Atlantic mackerel data16th August, 2023: Irish pelagic fishers and processors are joining an international scientific initiative to provide vital information which helps inform the management of Northeast Atlantic mackerel, one of Ireland’s most valuable species.

The Marine Institute and BIM are working in collaboration with pelagic fishers and processors to install mackerel scanners in processing plants in Killybegs, Co Donegal. Two units have been installed with further units to be fitted in factories over the next two years, with grant aid from the European Maritime, Fisheries and Aquaculture Fund (EMFAF).

“Mackerel remains Ireland’s most valuable wild caught export, valued at €95m in 2022 said Dr Michael Gallagher, Pelagic Sector Manager, BIM. “Given the importance of mackerel to the Irish seafood industry, it is critical that we collaborate to collect the best quality data for this valuable resource.

“BIM and the Marine Institute work closely together and we saw a real opportunity to reach out to fishers and processors to progress this initiative. Dr Edward Farrell of Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation has also played a central role in coordinating the installation and set-up of the scanners.”

Dr Andrew Campbell, Pelagic Fisheries team lead, Marine Institute, highlighted the importance of robust scientific data. “In addition to annual scientific surveys and the triennial mackerel egg survey, tag-return data from this type of study also yields invaluable stock structure and age composition insights,” said Dr Campbell. “This data feeds into assessments to allow meaningful catch limits to be set for sustainable management.”

Two tagging units installed in Killybegs at the end of last year are already capturing important data. “In total, 66 tagged fish have been detected to date and we are hopeful that more valuable tag return data will be generated from the Irish mackerel fishery as more scanning units are installed in cooperation with the pelagic industry,” said Dr Campbell.

Up to 2011, mackerel were tagged by inserting small metal tags into the abdomen of the fish before release, which were then picked up by metal detectors at processing plants when the tagged fish were caught. This labour intensive, manual process meant workers had to sift through the mackerel to pick out the tagged fish each time they heard the metal detector ping on processing lines.

“The international tagging programme has actually been in operation for over 55 years,” said Dr Edward Farrell, Chief Scientific and Sustainability Officer, KFO. “Over 40,000 fish have been tagged annually, which is done simply by jigging for mackerel on surveys in the North Sea and off the west coast of Ireland and west of Scotland.

“In 2011, Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) replaced these metal tags and now when the tagged fish pass through the scanners in processing plants, valuable data is automatically collected without any need to touch the fish.”


Every year the Marine Institute collaborates with scientists from other mackerel catching nations to produce the stock assessment of Northeast Atlantic (NEA) mackerel which is Irelands most valuable fishery. Mackerel tagging has been part of the information basis for the stock assessment for over 50 years. In recent years the tags have been changed from metal to RFID tags which can be detected automatically at the mackerel processing factories in order to improve the stock assessment. Every year up to 50,000 mackerel are tagged, and these new tags can be read automatically and the data sent remotely by the new scanners which operate on the conveyor belts of selected factories. From this data the scientists can tell not only where the fish moved since it was tagged, but also valuable information about its growth rate, and the productivity of the overall stock.  This new remote tag scanner programme is a great example of science industry partnership, which improves the quality of the stock assessment and advice and contributes to better outcomes for Irelands mackerel catching and processing sectors.


For more information, please contact:

Sheila Byrnes, Marine Institute e. m. +353 (0)87 815 5271

Sinéad Coyne, Marine Institute e. m. +353 (0)87 947 7090

Notes to Editor:

Marine Institute

The Marine Institute provides government, public agencies, and the maritime industry with a range of scientific, advisory, and economic development services that inform policy-making, regulation, and the sustainable management and growth of Ireland’s marine resources. The Institute undertakes, coordinates, and promotes marine research and development, which is essential to achieving a sustainable ocean economy, protecting ecosystems, and inspiring a shared understanding of the ocean.