Mackerel war intensifies as Iceland and Faroes branded irresponsible
September 25 2012 Lewis Smith
European ministers have given themselves powers to impose sanctions on Iceland and the Faroe Islands for setting inflated mackerel quotas.
The decision ratifies proposals made earlier this year and significantly increases the pressure on Iceland and the Faroes to slash their self-appointed quotas.
UK fisheries minister Richard Benyon was present at the Fisheries Council where he accused Iceland and the Faroes of “irresponsible behaviour” for setting inflated mackerel quotas.
He expressed “utter disappointment” at the failure of recent talks to persuade the two nations to reduce their quotas dramatically and said more talks should be held to bring peace to what have been dubbed “the mackerel war”.
But he said a deal should not be reached “at any cost” and, demanding urgent action, added: “We can’t penalise our own fleets because of the irresponsible behaviour of others.
“This is important to every delegation attending this Council. You may think this just affects a few states on the north or western fringes of the EU’s waters but it is fundamental to how we manage fisheries on a sustainable basis and respecting the ecosystem.”
Under the new rules Europe can ban or limit imports and landings of fish products from “third parties engaged in unsustainable practices in the management of fish resources they share with the EU”.
Sanctions are likely to be especially damaging to Iceland which in 2009, figures from the European Commission show, enjoyed a £720 million trade surplus over the EU for fish products.
Iceland and the Faroes believe they have a right to a bigger share of the annual mackerel catch but Europe and Norway insist that the levels they are demanding are far too high.
And while the politicians and fishermen fail to reach an adequate settlement, the sustainability of the stocks are under siege.
Mackerel has traditionally been a plentiful catch and is the UK’s most valuable fishery – in 2011 it was worth £205 million - but the row has meant it has been transformed from a well-managed stock to one that is being severely overfished.
Scientific advice states that the total catch for 2012 should be no more than 639,000 tonnes but the total of the quotas for the EU, Norway, Iceland and the Faroes is up to 930,000 tonnes, roughly 50 per cent higher than is sustainable.
Moreover, fresh scientific advice that is expected to be published in days is likely to state that quotas must be cut if the species is to be fished sustainably.
Already this year the Marine Stewardship Council has had to withdraw certificates of sustainability from seven mackerel fisheries, while the Marine Conservation Society has stopped recommending it as a fish to eat because of concern about the way it is now being fished.
Iceland has set itself a quota of 145,000 tonnes for 2012 while the Faroes are claiming 147,000 tonnes. The levels are more than ten times as big as their combined quotas before 2007.
Scotland takes the majority of the UK’s 189,000 tonne quota of mackerel and Richard Lochhead, the Scottish fishing minister, is anxious for sanctions to be imposed sooner rather than later.
"This has been a painfully slow process but sanctions have finally been agreed and we will continue to press for them to be implemented if the Faroes and Iceland again declare inflated mackerel quotas for next year,” he said.
"It is deeply frustrating that because the process has taken so long that we are now facing proposals to cut next year's quotas. It is simply infuriating that overfishing of mackerel by Iceland and the Faroes could lead to Scottish fishermen facing reduced quotas.
"Iceland and the Faroes must realise that the lack of sustainable management of this stock may provide their sectors with short terms gains but it will be long term disaster for all pelagic sectors. Hopefully, the prospect of sanctions will help concentrate Icelandic and Faroese minds.”
Ian Gatt, chief executive of the Scottish Pelagic Fishermen’s Association, backed the new sanctions powers and urged ministers to “dramatically step up the pace”.
He added: “Livelihoods in the Scottish catching, processing and other ancillary sectors could be affected if this totally irresponsible over-fishing by Iceland and the Faroes were to result in reduced quotas for our own fishing fleet, which has been adhering to scientific advice and fishing sustainably.”
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