Shetland fishing spokesmen have slammed a “shameful” deal to award a huge increase in mackerel quota to Faroe, saying it has failed to protect the long-term interests of the UK pelagic fleet.
The agreement on mackerel allocations for the north-east Atlantic was signed in London on Wednesday evening, bringing an extra 100,000 tonnes of fish to the Scottish fleet. The Shetland quota is likely to rise from over 30,000 tonnes to about 55,000.
According to Holyrood, Scotland’s most valuable fishery could be worth an extra £83 million as a result of the deal which includes Faroe for the first time. It means Scottish whitefish boats will once more have access to Faroese waters after being excluded for four years.
The mackerel TAC for the entire area now stands at a whopping 1.2 million tonnes – up about 81 per cent with the EU and Norway scooping 71.8 per cent of the fishery on the basis of their current bilateral agreement.
Faroe will receive 12.6 per cent of the Total Allowable Catch (TAC) and a further 15.6 per cent has been set aside for Icelandic and Russian catches still to be agreed.
Scottish fishermen will see their quota rise to over 210,000 tonnes, roughly equivalent to 42 per cent of the total EU quota.
Shetland Fishermen’s Association chief executive Simon Collins said Faroe had had its mackerel share doubled and for the first time handed access to Shetland waters to fish that hugely expanded catch.
The deal may pay off in the short term owing to the size of the TAC for 2014, but if quotas go down in future, Faroe will still be entitled to its near 13 per cent.
Mr Collins said: “This cavalier treatment of the UK’s most valuable catch is shameful. This fishery is far more important to Shetland than it ever was to Faroe. Yet unelected bureaucrats in Brussels, led by an irresponsible fisheries commissioner, have been given free rein to betray our community.”
He added that the Commission had made a “right royal fist of this from the beginning”.
Mr Collins said: “We are also angry and frustrated at the Commission’s behaviour over recent months. If they had been much firmer from the outset, we might have achieved a much better deal.
“The last thing we want as a result of this deal is Shetland waters full of Faroese boats catching quota that the Commission has handed over to them. Access is just as important as quota share. Once the door is open they will just keep on coming.
“There has been a curious double standard throughout his dispute. Faroe has said it needs more quota because the fish are in its waters, but they also need access to our waters to catch it.”
Shetland Fish Producers Organisation chief executive Brian Isbister dubbed the deal a “pure smash and grab” that was all about politics and had no basis in stock assessment.
He said: “Hats off to the Faroese for manipulating the situation, but in the long run we will not see this deal as being so clever.”
Mr Isbister said the Commission seemed to have been oddly sympathetic to Faroese claims of peripherality and fisheries dependence.
There had been little pressure for an expanded share from established Faroese pelagic interests, but Faroe would trade much of its new mackerel share for access to whitefish grounds north of Russia, he added.
Mr Isbister said the amount of fish that could be caught meant there would be major restructuring of the market with competition to find buyers and an inevitable dip in price. There would also be long-term unsustainable pressure on the mackerel stock.
He added: “We do not see this providing a solid, long-term benefit to the fleet. We have moved from a very stable situation of mackerel fleet management to a more uncertain one.”
• For full story see The Shetland Times tomorrow.