Iceland, MCS trade blows over mackerel

The Icelandic government is speaking out in greater detail about criticisms of its mackerel catch limits, this time in direct response to the Marine Conservation Society earlier this week labeling Icelandic mackerel “least sustainable.”

The MCS announced on 16 May that it has refined its ratings for mackerel, including the unflattering label for both Icelandic and Faroese mackerel, reflecting both countries’ fishing well over quotas set several years ago in a multinational agreement. The MCS announcement comes at the end of a week that saw EU officials debating the feasibility of leveling sanctions against Iceland and the Faroes.

"There appears to be no end in sight to the political tug-of-war over mackerel in the North East Atlantic, and MCS remains very concerned for the fish stocks that have been caught in the middle,” said Jim Masters, MSC fisheries and aquaculture program manager. “These ratings better reflect the damaging effect the political stand-off is having on mackerel stocks and the wider marine environment.."

The Faroese government has said little in response to the ongoing criticism, but Iceland’s government issued a detailed response this week. The response, coming from Iceland’s Ministry of Industries and Innovation, was a point-by-point counter to each argument MCS made against Icelandic mackerel fishing practices.

In particular, Iceland admitted that mackerel fisheries there had not sought Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) sustainability ratings, but only because the mackerel “has only appeared in catchable numbers in Iceland’s waters in recent years.”

Iceland also repeated its earlier statement that the EU and Norway have commanded 90 percent of the 2013 catch limits, which Iceland called “simply not realistic or reasonable,” given the migration of the mackerel stock to more northerly waters in recent years.

The ministry also addressed claims by the MCS that Iceland has refused to negotiate with other EU member states over quotas. The ministry wrote that Iceland “has never left the negotiation table,” and accused other negotiating parties of refusing to compromise.

“We are disappointed by the Marine Conservation Society’s decision to re-list Icelandic mackerel as ‘fish to avoid’ for consumers while upgrading European mackerel ,” said Steingrímur J. Sigfússon, minister of industries and innovation. “This unreasonable move toward Icelandic mackerel does not consider the scientific facts of the debate and Iceland’s repeated efforts to find a fair solution to mackerel fishing quotas.”


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