Scottish fisheries minister Richard Lochhead today condemned the European Commission for failing to take swift action to protect the industry against the “bullying and irresponsible behaviour” of Iceland and Faroe which have awarded themselves huge hikes in mackerel quota.
At the EU AgriFish Council in Luxembourg, fisheries commissioner Maria Damanaki said she would put forward proposals for trade sanctions against Iceland and Faroe in October.
But Mr Lochhead and Scottish fishermen’s leaders reacted angrily to the fact that no immediate action had been agreed.
Mr Lochhead said: “While the EU is navel gazing and caught up in process, Scotland’s most valuable catch is being plundered recklessly and without rebuke by the Faroe Islands and Iceland.
“Commissioner Damanaki has helpfully stated her serious intent on taking effective action in October, but this situation is being allowed to continue for yet another mackerel fishing season.
“The EU is not slow in taking action against European fishermen who break regulations, but is in danger of failing to protect its own fishermen against the bullying and irresponsible behaviour of Iceland and the Faroes.
“We have always said we would rather sanctions were not necessary and we will continue to do all we can to try and make some headway to address this issue ourselves.”
Mr Lochhead sought and won the agreement of UK fisheries minister Richard Benyon to a three-point plan to (i) call an international ministerial summit on the issue in a neutral country, (ii) investigate the feasibility of taking the case to the International Tribunal For The Law Of The Seas and (iii) continue to push for EU sanctions as quickly as possible.
For 2011 Faroe has set itself a total allowable catch (TAC) of mackerel of 150,000 tonnes, up 75 per cent on 2010 and more than five times its agreed share in 2009 when it was part of an international trilateral mackerel agreement with the EU and Norway.
Iceland, which caught very little mackerel prior to 2008, set its own increased TAC of around 147,000 tonnes earlier this year.
Ian Gatt, chief executive of the Scottish Pelagic Fishermen’s Association, said: “We are extremely disappointed that the [European Commission] has not seen the need to introduce immediate sanctions against Iceland and the Faroes.
“The mackerel fishery has just started and the slow approach taken by the EC means that a huge amount of damage could be done to this valuable stock in the intervening period. The EC should have introduced sanctions at the first available opportunity and their failure to do so is a missed opportunity that would have put real pressure on Iceland and the Faroes to resolve this dispute.
“Scottish mackerel fishermen have been repeatedly told about the tough line the commission is going to take against Iceland and the Faroes but we are now 12 months down the road and absolutely no action has been taken so far.”
Mr Gatt said the organisation supported the plan put forward by Mr Lochhead.