Iceland has come under renewed attack from Scottish fishermen and the government minister after announcing it is to increase its mackerel quota to 147,000 tonnes for next year.
The country, which set its 2010 target of 130,000 tonnes unilaterally after a breakdown in the international agreement over how much of the stock could be caught, recently walked away from talks with the EU, Norway and Faroe aimed at reaching a new deal. Faroe also later quit, leaving the EU and Norway to reach their own agreement.
European fisheries commissioner Maria Damanaki last week promised to explore ways of imposing sanctions on Iceland and Faroe for their behaviour.
Ian Gatt, chief executive of the Scottish Pelagic Fishermen’s Association, said: “Considering that Iceland never even fished for the species prior to 2005, their decision to significantly increase even further an already grossly over-inflated quota is the height of irresponsibility and could do real damage to a stock that has been sustainably harvested and carefully looked after by the Scottish fleet.
“They have taken this step so as to preserve their percentage share of the total international north-east Atlantic catch based on the quota they set for themselves this year, however, they never even caught the 130,000 tonnes they allocated in 2010 and this moves smacks of desperation and is sheer political posturing.
“Given the amount of mackerel that they took in their own waters in 2010, one has to question whether there will be enough fish left for them to get even close to their 2011 declared quota. It is now more essential than ever that the EU imposes trade sanctions on Iceland in response to their irresponsible behaviour.”
Icelandic negotiator Tomas Heidar told the BBC his country’s quota for 2011 represented an unchanged share of 16 per cent to 17 per cent of the north-east Atlantic mackerel fisheries next year.
He accused the EU and Norway of deciding to overfish next year by taking more than 90 per cent of the total allowable catch (TAC) recommended by scientists.
He said: “The EU and Norway are not the sole owners of the mackerel stock and by taking almost all the recommended total allowable catch, they disregard the legitimate interests of the other two coastal states, Iceland and the Faroe Islands, as well as the interests of Russia.”
Scottish fisheries secretary Richard Lochhead said: “It is now more important than ever that the international community stands together and takes strong action before it is too late for one of Europe’s biggest and most valuable stocks.
“We have a commitment from the EU fisheries commissioner Maria Damanaki to take strong action against Iceland – and the Faroes – and put in place the necessary tools to apply meaningful sanctions.
“The valuable mackerel fishery – worth £135m to the Scottish economy in 2009 – has been sustainably managed for the past 10 years by Scottish fishermen, as well as others across the EU and Norway.”
He added: “Firm action is vital or the irresponsible practices of Iceland may lead to the demise of this fishery.