Three years in, mackerel dispute still unresolved


Steven Hedlund

Published on
February 15, 2012

Another round of negotiations over the northeast Atlantic mackerel quota has failed to reach a resolution.

Talks in Reykjavik, Iceland, broke down on Thursday, with neither Iceland nor the Faroes “showing any intention of seeking a realistic compromise,” according to the Scottish Pelagic Fishermen’s Association (SPFA), which again is calling on the European Parliament to enact trade sanctions against Iceland and the Faroe Islands.

The European Union and Norway accuse Iceland and the Faroes of threatening the mackerel resource by setting their quotas too high, collectively totaling 300,000 metric tons this fishing year. The dispute has dragged on for three years, with Iceland and the Faroes unilaterally setting their own quotas each fishing year.

“It is glaringly apparent that continual negotiation and compromise by the EU and Norway is not going to achieve an agreement with Iceland and the Faroes. Sanctions must now be implemented against Iceland and the Faroes before their summer mackerel fisheries begin,” said SPFA CEO Ian Gatt. “We know the European Parliament is making good progress with the sanction proposal but it will also need European fisheries ministers to endorse the sanction measures.”

In a joint statement, EU Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki and Norwegian Fisheries Minister Lisbehth Berg-Hansen expressed “disappointment and grave concern” that neither Iceland nor the Faroes “really engaged in the negotiation process.”

They said the EU and Norway offered Iceland and the Faroes “a considerably increased share” and part of the quota in EU and Norwegian waters, “where the value of mackerel is significantly higher than in Icelandic or Faroese waters.”

“Iceland and the Faroe Islands seem to neglect the dependency that coastal communities in the EU and Norway have on the stock. Mackerel fishing has been an important source of income for decades in our coastal communities, for many thousands of fishermen operating both in large-scale and artisanal fisheries. Iceland is the newcomer in the mackerel fishery,” said Damanaki and Berg-Hansen.

Tomas Heidar, Iceland’s chief negotiator on mackerel fisheries, had a different take on the matter.

“Iceland put emphasis on ensuring a fair share for Icelandic vessels in the mackerel fishery, taking into account the fact that the stock migrates in large abundance into the Icelandic exclusive economic zone for feeding. Iceland further emphasized that the mackerel fishery should be in conformity with the advice of the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) in order to ensure a sustainable fishery,” he explained in an e-mail. “When it became clear that no agreement would be reached on the allocation of quotas between the parties, Iceland proposed that all the parties would reduce their catches in the same proportion this year. This proposal was not accepted by the other parties.”

“Consequently, the parties will unilaterally determine their respective quotas for this year as has been the case in recent years. Iceland’s share has been limited to 16 to 17 percent of the total catches and accordingly the catch limit this year is expected to be around 145,000 tons,” he added.

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