An agreement has finally been reached on the carve-up of quotas for North Sea fish stocks between the EU and Norway following protracted talks in Brussels.
The deal brings a five per cent cut in the total allowable catch (TAC) for mackerel – disagreement over this species caused the breakdown in negotiations in the first place – but this will stand for 10 years and arrangements will be put in place to give EU and Norwegian boats access to each other’s waters. The EU and Norway will also tackle Iceland about its massive overfishing of mackerel at a meeting scheduled for March.
The mackerel season will start a month earlier on 1st September and apply to boats from both sides of the North Sea will start at the same time, preventing the Norwegians gaining a competitive advantage.
Other developments include a 16.5 per cent increase in the North Sea cod quota in line with scientific advice and cuts of 15 per cent for haddock and whiting; approval for a “catch quota” initiative which will reward fishermen for cutting down on discards; and a 500-tonne transfer of North Sea whiting from Norway to the EU and agreement to develop a long-term management plan for the stock.
Giving the outcome of the marathon talks a cautious welcome, Scottish fisheries secretary Richard Lochhead said: “This was a particularly tough, complex and intense set of talks. I am proud that officials and the industry worked together to secure the best possible deal for Scottish fishermen, including an increase in North Sea cod quota.
“No country goes home with everything they want, especially with such complex and difficult issues and so many countries involved. Our guiding principle throughout was a determination to secure a deal, but not at any price, and we refused to buckle under pressure.
“Certain elements designed to conserve vulnerable fish stocks will be unwelcome to parts of the Scottish fleet. However, we have won broad agreement between the EU and Norway on how best to tackle the serious long-term dangers to the sustainability of the mackerel stock – potentially a major breakthrough, and cause for optimism for our fleets.
“There was a great deal at stake for both our pelagic and whitefish sectors, which support the businesses, jobs and infrastructure that are so crucial to our coastal communities. That’s why I’m particularly pleased that a new long-term deal has been secured for mackerel, which in 2009 became Scotland’s most valuable stock.”
Scottish Fishermen’s Federation chief executive Bertie Armstrong said: “The sticking point all along has been the matter of access to EU waters for Norway to complete fishing its quota of mackerel, and in return a reasonable longer term bilateral agreement for the continued sustainable fishing of this very important stock.
“Normally settled on an annual basis, the new agreement will cover a 10-year period, reviewed after five years. This will give some needed certainty to the fishery.
“The matter of access to each other’s water is an important issue as no nation will want to feel that arrangements applying to others fishing in their waters – and to their own vessels fishing traditional waters elsewhere – is anything other than fair and equitable. Not every detail will suit everyone; such is the complexity of the nature of the arrangements.”