Still no mackerel deal

The deadlock over mackerel in the North Atlantic lags on. Talks held in Oslo last week between the European Union, Norway, Iceland and the Faeroe Islands failed to yield an agreement.

This is the seventh round of negotiations held since last year, when Iceland and the Faeroes set unilateral mackerel quotas far higher than catches in previous years, angering the EU and Norway, which fear for the long-term sustainability of the mackerel fishery. Since then, the dispute has only intensified, and in January EU Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki blocked Iceland from landing its mackerel in EU ports.

Both sides expressed disappointment and concern over the failure to reach an agreement.

“I am deeply disappointed that these latest talks to seek agreement on how our shared mackerel stocks are fished have ended without agreement. The EU and Norway have demonstrated significant flexibility to try and find a reasonable solution, however Iceland and the Faeroes have shown a reluctance to reach agreement,” said Scottish MEP Richard Lochhead.

“It’s unclear whether further talks are possible. Iceland have announced another inflated mackerel quota for themselves for the year ahead, and my concern now is that Faeroes will follow suit,” he added. “This situation makes clearer than ever that meaningful, robust action needs to be taken by the EU against states acting outwith international fishery agreements and undermine the effect of responsible fisheries management.”

Bertie Armstrong, CEO of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, expressed concern that the lack of a deal will hit Scotland’s whitefish and pelagic fishing fleets hard.

“Scotland’s whitefish fishermen have been steadfast in their support of their colleagues fishing for mackerel and the failure to reach agreement today will have repercussions for the whitefish sector too,” said Armstrong. “It could, for example, force Scottish boats that would normally spend part of their time fishing for whitefish in Faroese waters to divert their effort instead to grounds closer to home.

“All these repercussions are a result of the irresponsible behavior off Iceland and the Faeroes, which could result in severe harm to the lifeblood stock of the Scottish pelagic industry, as well reduce important fishing opportunities for a significant number of our whitefish boats,” he added.

However, Tomas Heidar, Iceland’s chief negotiator for mackerel, said that progress was made during last week’s talks.

“Although no agreement was reached in the mackerel consultations last week, they were in our view more positive than earlier consultations between the parties,” declared Heidar. “Iceland showed increased flexibility in the consultations. We reiterated that Iceland’s point of departure is its current share in the mackerel fisheries, 16 to 17 percent, but indicated increased flexibility to accept a lower share.

“We expect that the EU and Norway will now respond to our increased flexibility by taking steps to reduce the gap that still exists between the parties,” he continued. “It is imperative that an agreement be reached on comprehensive management of the mackerel fisheries to prevent overfishing from this important stock and ensure sustainable fisheries. We believe that there is general understanding between the parties that this is their joint responsibility and that this is in their common interest. Obviously, the two biggest stakeholders, the EU and Norway, have most to gain in this respect and we hope that they will now contribute to a solution.”


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