Damanaki weighs in on mackerel row

By

Lindsey Partos, SeafoodSource contributing editor, reporting from Paris

Published on
August 23, 2010

European Union Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki is weighing in on the escalating “mackerel war” pitting the EU and Norway against Iceland and the Faeroe Islands, emphasizing that the EU cannot ignore the increased quotas and reassuring Scottish fishermen of her commitment to enter into talks.

Speaking with the Scottish Fisheries Minister Richard Lochhead on Monday, Damanaki said she’s prepared to personally meet with fisheries officials from Iceland and the Faeroes, Damanaki’s spokesperson told SeafoodSource on Tuesday.

“It is clear the commission isn’t happy and is disappointed about the situation,” he said.

Scottish fishermen and politicians are calling for immediate action. On Monday, Scottish MEP Struan Stevenson demanded an EU blockade of Icelandic and Faroese ships and goods, as the two non-EU nations are “plundering” mackerel stocks. Earlier this year, Iceland and the Faeroes set their 2010 mackerel quotas at 130,000 metric tons and 85,000 metric tons, respectively, more than tripling their previous quotas.

World Wildlife Fund-Scotland late last week suggested that, if maintained, the combined 2010 mackerel quotas will result in the fish being exploited 35 percent above the amount scientifically recommended by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea. The EU’s 2010 mackerel quota is set at 572,000 metric tons, the majority of which is shared between the EU and Norway.

Scottish fishermen said the greatly increased quotas “fly in the face” of scientific advice and international agreements and could lead to serious overfishing, which would damage Scotland’s fishing industry.

“Scotland has the first large-scale mackerel fishery in Europe to be accredited by the Marine Stewardship Council — efforts that could be undermined by the short-sighted actions of the Faeroes and Iceland,” said Lochhead on Tuesday.

For years, the EU, Norway and the Faeroes have cooperated with a unified mackerel quota set and distributed between all three. Until recently, Iceland hardly fished for mackerel in its 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone.

But a considerable increase in the mackerel stock in northern waters, which some scientists attribute to climate change and rising ocean temperatures, led the Icelandic and Faroese governments to boost their mackerel quotas significantly.

In a statement last week following the return of a research vessel investigating fish distribution in Iceland’s EEZ, the country’s fisheries and agriculture ministry confirmed that mackerel “is in much greater abundance within the Icelandic EEZ when compared to data from a similar expedition in 2009.”

Earlier this month, the ministry claimed EU and Norwegian calls for an import ban on seafood products from Iceland and the Faeroes, an archipelago of 18 islands in the North Atlantic and an autonomous region of Denmark, were “not justified.” The ministry reiterated that any import ban or similar trade measure would be in “clear violation” of the European Fair Trade Association Convention, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, and the European Economic Area agreement.

The mushrooming mackerel row is set against a wider political context, as Iceland is beginning the negotiation process to join the EU. The country applied for EU membership in July 2009.

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