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.
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
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 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 worldfishing.net 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.”