There is an impasse over mackerel quotas in the talks between the European Union and Norway which set the total allowable catches (TACs) of North Sea fish stocks and are of crucial important to Shetland fishermen.
With discussions to resume in Brussels on Tuesday after round one in Bergen on 20th and 21st November, hopes of a deal ahead of the annual December fisheries council are not high.
Isles fishermen will be hoping for a positive outcome because as well as mackerel the TACs for other stocks, including haddock, cod, whiting and herring, are set. Shetland Fishermen’s Association chief executive Hansen Black will be attending.
Bertie Armstrong, chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, said the Bergen talks began well with agreement on some pelagic stocks, including blue whiting and Atlanto-Scandian herring, but there was no deal on mackerel.
“In previous years agreement on mackerel has usually been achieved quite quickly, but this year after two separate weeks of negotiations there is still an impasse,” he said.
“There have been a number of complications this year including the decision by Iceland to unilaterally take a staggeringly large quota of mackerel, combined with Norway’s inability to live with the rules that have applied to all participants for years.
“Not only is this worrying in its own right but it is affecting the progress of the EU/Norway talks – the outcome of which, alongside the mackerel decision, is vital for Scotland.
“The results of the EU/Norway talks this week will be of utmost importance to the Scottish fleet, including particularly the hard-pressed whitefish sector and those elements of the prawn fleet which have a significant bycatch of whitefish.”
Norway is accusing the EU of breaching an accord reached in 1994 which permits its boats to catch mackerel in EU waters. The country’s chief negotiator, Ann-Kristin Westberg, said the EU had refused Norwegian fishermen entry when they followed migrating stocks earlier this year.
“This is a very serious breach of the agreement and obviously that will overshadow this year’s negotiations,” she said. “The EU does not usually break agreements. This is unusual.”
She added: “If we do not have an agreement before Christmas, it means that we cannot fish in each other’s waters.”
The European Commission argues that it has not broken the agreement and that Norway is trying to fish “inappropriately” in EU waters.