Are mackerel talks nearing an end?

Hopes for an end to the ongoing mackerel dispute in the North Atlantic kick off on Thursday in Copenhagen, Denmark.

The latest round of talks has the European Union, Norway and the Faeroe Islands hammering out a joint management plan for mackerel, including catch limits, in 2011.

Hopeful an accord is in sight, Ian Gatt, chief executive of the Scottish Pelagic Fishermen’s Association, still warned that the deal “must not be done so at any cost” to Scotland’s traditional mackerel catching rights.

The talks continue about five months after Iceland and the Faeroes sparked fury among Scottish fishermen by setting unilateral mackerel quotas far higher than catches in previous years. The Faeroes set its 2010 mackerel quota at 85,000 metric tons, more than three times last year’s quota, while Iceland targeted 130,000 metric tons.

The fishermen argue that Iceland and the Faeroes, which are not EU members, ramped up their mackerel quotas so much that they are threatening sustainability of Scotland’s mackerel industry. At GBP 135 million, mackerel is the Scottish fleet’s most valuable species, with a 130,000-metric-ton quota inked for 2010 by the Common Fisheries Policy.

Iceland will not be participating in the Copenhagen talks, and the country has since announced its intention to set a unilateral quota of 16 to 17 percent of the 2011 total allowable catch (TAC).

At the time, Scottish fisheries minister Richard Lochhead said, “It is so disappointing that Iceland has stuck with unrealistic demands that put all this hard work at risk and threatens the future viability of mackerel fishing in the North Atlantic.”

Last week, Tomas H. Heidar, Iceland’s chief negotiator for mackerel, denied that Iceland “walked away” from talks, pointing to Norway’s “inflexible” position that a share of the mackerel quota for Iceland beyond 3.1 percent was unacceptable.

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