Scottish fisheries minister Richard Lochhead joined the chorus of condemnation of the Icelandic and Faroese governments today with an attack on their “damaging and irresponsible” increases in mackerel quota allocations.
He spoke out the day after EU fisheries commissioner Maria Damanaki warned that Icelandic and Faroese fishing vessels could be banned from EU waters if the “anarchic” situation created by the unilateral rises is not resolved.
Faroe set a quota last month of 85,000 tonnes for the fish in 2010 – three times that agreed under management arrangements with the EU and Norway during the last decade – while Iceland intends to take 130,000 tonnes. The commissioner said their behaviour risked causing the collapse of the north-east Atlantic mackerel stock.
Mr Lochhead welcomed the commissioner’s decision to send a clear message to Faroe objecting to its quota increase and to hold early discussions in order to put the management of the mackerel stock back on a “sustainable basis”. Iceland is certain to come under pressure to reduce its quota as it begins negotiations to join the European Union.
Mr Lochhead said Faroe’s quota amounted to 15 per cent of the recommended global total allowable catch (TAC) – far in excess of its previous share of four per cent.
“This level of fishing is likely to have a detrimental impact on the fishery and impact on the sustainability of the stock,” he said. “It will undermine Scottish mackerel fishing, the first large-scale mackerel fishery in Europe to be accredited by the Marine Stewardship Council.
“I’m pleased that the EU has now publicly denounced these extremely damaging and irresponsible actions by both countries. I am greatly encouraged by the commitment being shown by the EU on this and hope that these matters will be at the fore of Iceland’s EU accession negotiations.
“Mackerel is one of the most sustainable fisheries thanks to the action that Scotland and other EU member states have taken to successfully manage stocks. This is now being put at risk by the irresponsible actions of Iceland and the Faroes.”
Meanwhile, according to the Faroe Shipowners’ Association (FSA), Faroe had no choice but to set its own quota after failing to win concessions from the EU and Norway during negotiations earlier this year on mackerel, despite scientific evidence that the north-east Atlantic stock has gravitated towards the islands.
The association, which represents all larger Faroese fishing vessels, supports the position taken by the Faroese government, asserting that it has “acted both sensibly and responsibly” by setting the quota in accordance with its requested share of the international quota.
“We did not leave the mackerel agreement as some have alleged but were rather excluded from it in the bilateral deal struck between the EU and Norway,” FSA chairman Viberg Sørensen said.
“Between themselves alone, the EU and Norway allotted themselves 10 per cent more than the total catch recommended by [scientists] for the entire mackerel stock — disregarding any share for the Faroes, Iceland, or Russia. Viewed in this light, the steps taken to blockade our ships from landing, not to mention the proposed boycott of our seafood exports, are manifestly unfair.
“Our government can hardly be blamed for the collapse of the multilateral negotiations this year. They tried as late as in June to reach an agreement for 2010 but to no avail. They have acted both sensibly and responsibly in a difficult situation. Now we hope all of the coastal states will do their part to ensure that an agreement will be reached for the 2011 season.”
Mr Sørensen added: “There is a growing body of scientific evidence confirming what we’ve known for years – that this mackerel stock has become more and more present in our waters and now even spawns here. So it would only be reasonable to take such evidence into account in a revision of the quota sharing principles used in the international mackerel arrangement.”