The European Union and the Scottish and UK governments must “play hard” with Faroe and Iceland for their large, self-imposed increases in mackerel quotas if the local pelagic fishery is to be kept out of danger, chief executive of the Shetland Fishermen’s Association Hansen Black has warned.
With the European Association of Fish Producers Organisation (EAPO) calling on EU fisheries commissioner Maria Damanaki to introduce sanctions, Mr Black criticised the Faroese for what he called “opportunism” in failing to sign up to an agreement between coastal states on the total allowable catch (TAC) of mackerel after their demands for a greater share were dismissed.
Mr Black is particularly concerned about the prospect of the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) revoking the North East Atlantic mackerel fishery’s hard won sustainable status. The MSC said last week that if no agreement was forthcoming, this might have to happen.
With around 90 per cent of the Shetland pelagic sector’s earnings coming from the mackerel, it is by far the isles’ most important stock and any reduction in catch could be disastrous for fishermen and the local economy.
Mr Black said: “We’ve worked very hard to get the mackerel fishery accredited. The MSC accredits management of a fishery and I can completely see where they’re coming from – if you don’t have proper management of a fishery how can they hold it up as a well managed stock?
“It would mean that re-accreditation would be difficult, if not impossible, and we’re completely unwilling to accept that other countries’ reckless behaviour could have this impact. We’re calling on Damanaki, as well as our own governments, to play hard with the Faroese to make sure their behaviour does not put the fishery in danger.”
The Faroese government decided last week to award a mackerel quota of 85,000 tonnes for 2010. This figure is outside the guideline suggested by scientists for mackerel management. Meanwhile Iceland opted earlier in the year to award itself a mackerel quota of 130,000 tonnes.
In recent years there has been a northerly shift in the distribution of North East Atlantic mackerel stocks into Icelandic waters, resulting in an increase in the number of nations fishing the stock, as well as total catches – the quantity of fish that can be taken from each stock each year – being fished.
The lack of a co-ordinated agreement on the setting of TACs between European Union countries and non-member states has meant former methods of decision-making which controlled the allocation of quota have been undermined.
The MSC stated that unless the situation was resolved by 2012 it would have no option but to suspend its certification of the fishery as sustainable, which would seriously jeopardise the long term health of the stock.
In the latest MSC assessment of the mackerel fishery, the stock is reported as being healthy but the certifier noted that if the current level of fishing continues into 2012 and beyond, it would pose a significant threat to the long term sustainability of the whole mackerel fishery.
UK fisheries leaders have condemned the two countries’ actions. Chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation Bertie Armstrong pledged to “continue to make representations at the highest level to try and ensure a sensible agreement on mackerel is finally reached”.
At a meeting with Ms Damanaki at the European Parliament in Strasbourg earlier this month, their objections were met with “robust support”. However this week EAPO called on Ms Damanaki to “act quickly and decisively in reaction to this irresponsible behaviour of the two countries”.
A spokesman said: “This outrageous behaviour could seriously jeopardise the currently healthy mackerel stock with huge negative economic consequences for the EU industry as a result.”
EAPO is calling for a number of hard hitting actions to be taken, including an immediate ban on the import of all seafood products from both countries.
The association’s northern pelagic working group chairman Gerard van Balsfoort said: “The EU must be prepared to stand up for and protect community pelagic fishermen against this outrageous behaviour.
“We are not prepared to stand idly by what is happening now and we will not accept any mackerel quota reductions, caused by the irresponsible overfishing.”