Proposed mackerel deal will cost pelagic jobs, SFA chief warns

Shetland’s pelagic fleet could be under threat if a deal proposed by the European Commission to end the international mackerel dispute is adopted, Shetland Fishermen’s Association has warned.

The organisation, which represents a third of Britain’s pelagic fleet, has reacted angrily to proposals from Brussels bureaucrats which it says would reward Iceland and Faroe for “piracy”.

Ahead of a meeting of the EU Fisheries Council tomorrow, SFA executive officer Simon Collins urged UK and Scottish fisheries ministers George Eustice and Richard Lochhead to avoid being rushed into a commission-sponsored quick fix.

Simon Collins: Deal would reward
Simon Collins: Deal would reward “piracy”.

The SFA understands the commission is proposing a revised international agreement that could see the total allowable catch (TAC) of mackerel rise to 64 per cent, with Iceland getting an 11.9 per cent share of that. It’s current share is zero.

It is also understood that pending a positive response from Iceland, Faroe will be offered a similar deal.

Mr Collins said: “While everyone wants an end to the dispute and to see a return to stability, this deal is quite simply a reward for piracy on the part of Iceland and Faroe.

“These countries – where there had been relatively little mackerel fishing in the past – have

The Charisma, shown moored at its home port of Symbister, Whalsay, is one of the fleet which could be affected.
The Charisma, shown moored at its home port of Symbister, Whalsay, is one of the fleet which could be affected.

awarded themselves huge quota increases in recent years outside the bounds of recognised international agreement. They have deliberately flouted the responsible management system that was set up to ensure the sustainability of the mackerel stock in the north-east Atlantic.

“Now, if this proposal by the EU is accepted by the other coastal states responsible for the management of the mackerel fishery, Iceland, Faroe and Greenland could all of a sudden be awarded somewhere approaching 30 per cent of the TAC.”

Under the proposed deal the Shetland fleet would be allowed to catch an increased amount of fish but Mr Collins is concerned that their share of the overall mackerel quota would be “severely reduced”.

And he warned that mackerel population levels, while healthy now, were cyclical.

“When they reduce, our fishing effort will be squeezed based on a reduced share of the TAC and we simply won’t be able to sustain our present fleet – a fleet which has been built over many years on one of the most stable fishing opportunities our men have ever seen.

“What this deal heralds is no jobs for the sons and grandsons of members of this community who have taken great personal risks to build a successful pelagic fleet in the first place.”

The dispute centres around the stocks of north-Atlantic mackerel.
The dispute centres around the stocks of north-Atlantic mackerel.

The International Council for Exploration of the Sea (ICES) has recommended a TAC of 890,000 tonnes of mackerel, 64 per cent up on the 2013 total.

According to the ICES advice stocks have expanded north-westwards to spawn and for the summer feeding migration – including into Icelandic waters.

Icelandic agriculture and fisheries minister Sigurgeir Þorgeirsson said that represented “very good news”. He is quoted on the website.

He said: “It can hardly be doubted that the grossly increased north- and north-westerly migration of the stock into our rich feeding grounds, plays an important role in maintaining its size and healthy state. We believe strongly that mackerel catch quotas must be grounded in scientific data and an agreement on how to share the stock must reflect these realities.”


Add Your Comment
  • John Tulloch

    • October 16th, 2013 7:49

    “These countries – where there had been relatively little mackerel fishing in the past – have awarded themselves huge quota increases in recent years outside the bounds of recognised international agreement.”

    Are we saying that if, say, tuna fish expanded similarly into Shetland waters that, because we have never fished for them before, we would have to stand back and leave them to the Spanish and Portuguese because they have the traditional “right” to that species?

    What “right” do EU fishermen have to pillage the fish stocks of non-EU countries?

    The difficulty will surely only arise if the mackrel subsequently retreat to our waters in reduced numbers and the Icelanders and Faroese then expect to come here and similarly pillage our, by then, shrinking stocks?

  • stephen shirmer

    • October 16th, 2013 11:05

    Question: If Scotland ever becomes independent will Shetland fishermen get the Shetland box, a fishing zone only for Scottish/ Shetland boats, thus helping to boost the local fishing economy.

  • David Spence

    • October 16th, 2013 16:22

    I am intrigued John that you say ‘ Our Stocks’ when in actual fact they are nobodies stock outside the agreed limit where boats can fish in, again which is questionable, international waters.

    If one wants to preserve the fish stocks and sustain this industry better, why not limit the size of the boats used for fishing?

    Today’s massive purse netters combined with the technologies these boats have, it is no wonder the sea’s are being sucked dry of every species of fish. As well as this, and to make matters worse upto 50% of that catch being dumped back into the sea because it does not meet EU regulations in terms of human consumption.

    I would say we should take a leaf out of what Norway is doing in regards to conserving fish stocks and giving heavy penalties to those boats/people who break the law.

    I would also question the icelandic for what they perceive to be ‘ their sea ‘ when it comes to mackeral moving towards their country in terms of feeding, and what they deem to be their legitimate right to take advantage of this and benefit from an agreement which has not been fully agreed upon or ratified by the EU or other governing body.

    This reminds me of the 1970’s Cod Wars with the icelandic and british fishing fleets fighting over the rights as to who has the right to fish in specific waters within the North/West of the Atlantic.

  • John Jamieson

    • October 16th, 2013 20:44

    Alistair Carmichael would have had a real job to do if he’d been given the fisheries post (instead of George Eustice) with the EU is deciding how to deal with mackerel quotas in conjunction with Iceland and the Faroes.

  • John Tulloch

    • October 16th, 2013 21:56


    Definition: Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ):

    “UN-granted rights and responsibilities of coastal states to control, exploit, manage, and conserve the living and non-living resources of the sea up to 200 miles (321.87 Km) off their coasts, while allowing freedom of navigation to other states beyond 12 miles (19.31 Km) of their coasts.”

    I think that covers the right of these tiny, remote island nations, heavily dependent on fishing, to do what they like in their own waters.

    Shetland should have the same and may get it if the SIC have the courage and determination to stick out for it.

    Before anyone points it out the 200 (nautical) miles only applies if the mid-point between two coastal states is more than 200 nm from both states, otherwise, it’s generally the mid-point unless some special circumstances apply.

  • Billy Fox

    • October 17th, 2013 10:09

    This fishery relates to the Atlantic Mackerel (Scomber scombrus), not the Atlantic Horse Mackerel (Tachurus tachurus) as pictured in this article. Having pointed that out let’s hope the scientists, for what their opinion is worth, are looking at the correct species!

    Given past advice and this unbelievable recommended increase in TAC from ICES one could be forgiven for doubting even that.

    Apart from getting it right and the debate around the migration and more crucially spawning grounds of the Atlantic Mackerel stock, have they given any thought to what a 64% increase in landings will do to the markets?

    We are looking at a fish stock which has been “scientifically managed” for decades, how can they get it so wrong that an increase of this size can be applied from one year to the next? This isn’t fisheries management it’s guess work.

  • Peter McIlwaine

    • October 17th, 2013 17:52

    There’s a definite sense of “deja vu” here indeed, when remembering the so-called Cod Wars of the 1970s. Reading of the seemingly sensible approach of the Norwegian government in regard to the present situation, we can only hope that the British government actively supports both their efforts, and the arguments of the Irish government minister, Simon Coveney, in his educated and vociferous opposition to the proposals presently before the European Commission. Whilst there can be no ownership, as such, of shifting spawning grounds, there MUST be a concerted appreciation – by all concerned – of the need to conserve future stocks for the benefit of all.

  • John Tulloch

    • October 17th, 2013 18:25

    Didn’t it seem a bit odd that the EU put sanctions on Faroe and not Iceland, especially, when it was Iceland that started the trouble and the Faroese followed on their coat tails?

    By sheer coincidence, following Iceland’s financial downfall in the crisis of 2008, Iceland applied for membership of the EU and negotiations were well down the road.

    The Iceland people, however, recently voted in a new government with a mandate to withdraw from the EU application which they have done, to the great dismay of the EU whose chief negotiator wants the negotiations to continue to completion of the package, doubtless, so that it is sitting ready for the next change of Icelandic government.

    Economic sanctions would have been “unhelpful” for the EU’s efforts to extend its territorial reach well into the North Atlantic and possibly, on to Greenland in due course. But they couldn’t let this snub to their great cartel pass without demur so the mighty EU put sanctions on poor little Faroe who depends hevily on her fishing and is one ten thousandth of the size of the EU.

    But how to get out of this bind?

    Up the total allowable catch to allow the “norsemen” to catch what they like and increase everyone else’s quota, too, to keep the peace. Of course, it’s was obvious, all along – “Mon dieu, why did we not think of this before?”

    But what happens when the mackrel disappear in a year or two due to over-fishing?

    “Why, zen, of course, we reduce the quotas once more, after all have signed the agreement – it will be “necessaire” to cut back, the scientists will tell us so, non?”


  • David Spence

    • October 17th, 2013 19:11

    Thank you John for the information.

    I was under the impression that a country’s borders (if those borders include the coast and sea) went as far as 3 miles out from land, and that European borders went as far as 12 miles out from land. After this, the waters were regarded as international and any country could fish or utilise (oil rigs etc) any resources outwith the 12 mile limit within the North Sea?

    Any way, thank you John for clarifying the situation.

  • Sandy McMillan

    • October 20th, 2013 0:11

    Its not so long ago when Councillor Wills went to Brussels via Terminal two, was it not to sort out this fishing saga, and get a better deal that suited our fishermen, its not the Shetland Fishing Fleet, Large medium or small boats that is the problem, it is all these EU connected fishing fleets, most of the larger boats have to run from Shetland across the North sea and the Norwegian sea to land there catch, why because they cant get them landed at the Shetland Catch own to the ammout of foreigners landing, I woulkd think another visit to Brussels by
    Councillor Wills is required.


Add Your Comment

Please note, it is the policy of The Shetland Times to publish comments and letters from named individuals only. Both forename and surname are required.

Comments are moderated. Contributors must observe normal standards of decency and tolerance for the opinions of others.

The views expressed are those of contributors and not of The Shetland Times.

The Shetland Times reserves the right to decline or remove any contribution without notice or stating reason.

Comments are limited to 200 words but please email longer articles or letters to for consideration and include a daytime telephone number and your address. If emailing information in confidence please put "Not for publication" in both the subject line and at the top of the main message.

200 words left

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


Get Latest News in Your Inbox

Join the The Shetland Times mailing list to get one daily email update at midday on what's happening in Shetland.