Faroe has awarded itself a mackerel quota for this year of 150,000 tonnes – more than five times that proposed by an international management plan – following the breakdown last weeks of talks on the future of the fishery.
The move provoked anger among Scottish fishermen who believe the behaviour of Faroe and Iceland, which has already set itself a total allowable catch (TAC) of around 155,000 tonnes, is putting the stock in the north-east Atlantic at risk.
Ian Gatt, chief executive of the Scottish Pelagic Fishermen’s Association, said that if Faroe had stuck by the coastal states management plan for mackerel that it previously participated in, its quota for this year should have been 29,700 tonnes.
“In effect they have massively increased their quota by five-fold, which goes against all scientific advice. Their behaviour is grossly irresponsible and puts at real risk a stock that has been carefully nurtured and looked after by the Scottish fleet. If every nation unilaterally increased their quotas five-fold, then there would be no fish left in the sea.
“The Faroese maintain that changes in the migratory patterns of mackerel is behind their decision to increase their quota. However, we totally refute this suggestion as there is no evidence that there has been any change in the movement of mackerel.
“We have already seen the impact of the lack of an international agreement on the blue whiting stock, which has been decimated as a result of a number of non-EU countries such as Iceland and the Faroes engaging in ‘free-for-all’ fishing. The impact on Scottish jobs if the same were to happen to mackerel would be disastrous.
“The situation is so serious that the Scottish government needs to take charge of the negotiations at the highest ministerial level. In the meantime, Scottish and European fishermen are determined that no Faroese mackerel will be landed into our ports.”
Scottish fisheries secretary Richard Lochhead said: “This is nothing short of a outrageous mackerel grab by the Faroes, who are determined to seek short-term profit, at the expense of the sustainability of the stock, rather than come to a reasonable agreement with the other nations who share the mackerel fishery.
“In repeated talks on a new four-way deal, the EU and Norway have demonstrated willingness and flexibility to come to an agreement – however we cannot do a deal at any cost. What we now urgently need is meaningful sanctions by the EU against the Faroes and Iceland, to demonstrate that their flagrant disregard of our responsibility to sustainably manage the mackerel stock will not be tolerated.
“Earlier this year an attempt by the Faroes to have their mackerel certified by the Marine Stewardship Council failed following a Scottish objection. This demonstrates that their unacceptable practices are threatening the future viability of the mackerel stock, which has been carefully managed to become the valuable fishery it is today.”
Shetland Fishermen’s Association chief executive Hansen Black said the lack of an agreement would hit not only the pelagic fleet but the whitefish sector.
He said: “It wasn’t a shock that there was no agreement. This has now been going on for a year and a half, last year they continued trying to come to an agreement up until June and this year it’s shaping up the same way.”
Mr Black said that any resolution would require a “significant change in attitude” from Faroe and Iceland in their approach to the issue.
He said: “From the pelagic point of view the quota has been set and we’ll get a share of that fishery.
“It’s likely to happen that with no agreement the stock will start to fall and quota will mirror that and also fall, so the boats will end up being penalised.”
The next steps for the Scottish and local fleets, he said, would be to continue to fish to agreed quota and fishing opportunity and to wait for further developments.
He said: “It’s important that we maintain the integrity of the deals that were there beforehand; we can’t give away fishing opportunity to appease the bully boy tactics of some of these countries.”
Worryingly, the lack of agreement will also have consequences for the whitefish fleet and the boats that currently fish out of Faroese waters.
Mr Black said: “The more immediate impact for this year will be for the boats that have Faroese quota and fish there for part of the year. It was made very clear that if there is no agreement with the EU our boats will have no access to Faroese waters. This is important not just in terms of quota but also days at sea.
“At this moment in time, from a UK and Scottish perspective, the main concern is to get the mackerel issue sorted out, that’s still the number one priority.”