Another twist in the tail

It has been a long time coming but the highly valuable Northeast Atlantic (NEA) mackerel stock is now back on a sustainable footing. Well almost. After close to five years of failed coastal state negotiations, three of the main warring parties — the EU, Norway and the Faroe Islands — have reached a five-year agreement on catch shares. For the time being, though, Iceland remains out in the cold.

On confirming her delight at the “significant day for international fisheries,” European Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki stressed “the door is still open for Iceland to join the other parties in the near future.” An unallocated reserve amount has been set aside for the country, believed to be 15.6 percent of the total allowable catch (TAC), which it will share with Russia. It should be noted, however, that Iceland’s Fisheries Minister Sigurdur Johannsson has voiced his disappointment that, among other things, the trilateral deal was brokered without his country being at the table.

In the meantime, it’s expected that fishery scientists at the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) will recommend a massive increase in the 2014 NEA mackerel TAC, based upon a significant increase in the spawning biomass.

This decision is anticipated in mid-April, but should it prove to go as high as the 1.2 million metric tons (MT) that has been widely touted, then the deal, which runs until 2018, will give the EU a 611,000 MT quota, Norway 279,000 MT and 156,000 MT for the Faroes with its newly agreed 12.6 percent of the TAC.

The Faroese are understandably delighted with this allocation as it would represent 6,000 MT more than the unilateral catch that the self-governing Danish state set itself last year — a quota that sparked outrage among the other coastal states and also brought EU trade sanctions against it. Scotland is also pleased with the overall package as it gives the country a quota in excess of 210,000 MT. This is approximately 100,000 MT more than last year and is expected to boost the U.K. economy by an additional GBP 100 million (USD 165.1 million, EUR 119.9 million). Scotland’s share is about 42 percent of the EU’s total quota.

Of course, it’s highly unlikely that any of the coastal states would be happy with their catch shares should ICES recommend large decreases in future TACs.

From a consumer standpoint, the reinstatement of NEA mackerel’s Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification would surely go a long way to putting the long-running dispute to bed as much was made of its suspension last year. Another major boost would be an improved ranking on the fish’s Marine Conservation Society’s (MCS’s) Fish to Eat list after its downgrade, also in 2013.

SeafoodSource has learned that certifiers are looking at the situation to ascertain whether conditions are being met for the reinstatement of the MSC label. Meanwhile, the MCS has confirmed it’s in conversations with industry stakeholders to establish how the agreement affects the stock status. It is, however, likely to wait for ICES’ official scientific benchmarking of the stock before jumping the gun with new advice and scorings.

Clearly the fact Iceland is not currently part of the agreement will play a big part in the decision making process for both parties. But another potential spanner in the works is Greenland after its government set a unilateral mackerel TAC of 100,000 MT for 2014, following unprecedented demand for commercial fishing licenses. This new quota is 30,000 MT more than the one it set in 2013.

In light of what’s happened over the past five years, many stakeholders will fear this latest twist could de-rail the new NEA catch arrangements before they have barely got underway.


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