It is hoped that the mackerel quota dispute can be resolved at a three-day coastal states meeting which began in Oslo today.
The meeting represents a new opportunity for the EU and Norway to forge an international coastal states management agreement for mackerel with Iceland and the Faroes, which Scottish fishermen maintain is essential to ensure the long-term sustainability of the fishery.
This will be the seventh round of talks over the issue, with previous efforts ending without an agreement and Iceland and Faroe, followed by Norway, walking out of talks.
Iceland and Faroe have also come under fire for setting total allowable catches (TACs) of 155,000 and 85,000 tonnes respectively, figures which are well outwith the recommended guidelines for sustainable fishing.
Mackerel is Shetland’s most valuable fishery, equating to 90 per cent of the catch. In 2009 mackerel was worth £135 million to the Scottish economy.
Scottish fisheries secretary Richard Lochhead said: “Scotland’s overwhelming priority remains securing a new four-way deal to protect the sustainability of the mackerel stock and the long-term viability of the industry. However, an agreement can’t come at any cost and we will seek a fair and justifiable outcome.
“The irresponsible 2011 mackerel quotas we have seen set by Iceland already is deeply worrying for the future of the fishery. I urge Iceland and the Faroes to negotiate reasonably. I believe the EU is prepared to be realistic and flexible in seeking a resolution.
“As there is currently no fishery agreement with the Faroes in place for 2011, Scottish vessels who would normally fish for other species in Faroese waters some of the time are being denied access. This demonstrates the wider effect that a lack of agreement is having and a new international deal for the mackerel stock is in everyone’s interests.”
Chief executive of the Scottish Pelagic Fishermen’s Association Ian Gatt said: “We hope that after a period of reflection that Icelandic and Faroese representatives at the talks will recognise the need to strike a deal, which is essential given that the stock is still in good health.
“It is vital for the future of the Scottish mackerel sector that there is restoration of sensible and responsible mackerel management arrangements in the north-east Atlantic so as to secure the long-term sustainable future of the stock. However, whilst reaching a deal is important, it must not be done so at any cost and it needs to ensure that Scotland’s traditional mackerel catching rights are not compromised.”
Isles MP Alistair Carmichael argued that the restoration of a sensible and sustainable management regime for North Sea mackerel was essential to the future of the stock.
Mr Carmichael said: “Mackerel is the Scottish fleet’s most valuable stock and it has been clear from the start that the decision of Iceland and Faroe to increase their quota unilaterally could have a profound long-term impact across the industry.
“The situation is now more urgent than ever – we need to see the restoration of a sensible and sustainable management regime as soon as possible.
“It is vital that all parties at this latest round of talks do what they can to secure a sustainable solution to this dispute. I believe that the position of Iceland and Faroe is untenable and hope that they approach these negotiations with an open mind.”