MACKEREL quotas are to be cut by five per cent in return for a 10 year deal with Norway over access to the most valuable fish species in the North Sea, after talks with the European Union culminated last night.
An unprecedented six weeks of negotiations ended with the most complex agreement Europe and Norway have ever reached, which includes a 16.5 per cent increase in the North Sea cod quota.
The annual talks broke down in December before the EU’s fisheries council decided on this year’s quotas for fishing vessels, causing uncertainty throughout the industry.
The final outcome, which will allow Shetland trawlers to increase the percentage of mackerel they catch in the North Sea while giving Norwegians greater access to EU waters, was given a cautious welcome by fishing leaders.
After reconvening last week, the two sides hammered out an agreement that will see them uniting to take up cudgels against Iceland, who are being universally condemned for the amount of mackerel they have been catching to help with the country’s financial crisis.
The Scottish government said the agreement allows for:
- a 16.5 per cent quota increase for North Sea cod;
- the go ahead for a “catch quota” initiative for North Sea cod to continue to reward fishermen for cutting discards;
- an unprecedented 500 tonne transfer of North Sea whiting from Norway to the EU as well as agreement to develop a long term management plan for the stock;
- agreement that all the other jointly managed stocks (North Sea herring, saithe, plaice and haddock) should have their total allowable catches (TACs) set by long-term management plan;
- a 10 year deal for mackerel, which will help towards ending uncertainties around its management, including how to tackle Iceland’s massive overfishing;
- arrangements for Scottish vessels fishing for mackerel in Norwegian waters and vice versa;
- harmonised starting dates for EU and Norwegian mackerel fisheries, to prevent Norwegian boats from having an unfair competitive edge; and
- a five per cent cut in the mackerel TAC
Fisheries secretary Richard Lochhead said: “This was a particularly tough, complex and intense set of talks. I am proud that officials and the industry worked together to secure the best possible deal for Scottish fishermen, including an increase in North Sea cod quota.
“No country goes home with everything they want, especially with such complex and difficult issues and so many countries involved. Our guiding principle throughout was a determination to secure a deal, but not at any price, and we refused to buckle under pressure.
“Certain elements designed to conserve vulnerable fish stocks will be unwelcome to parts of the Scottish fleet. However, we have won broad agreement between the EU and Norway on how best to tackle the serious long term dangers to the sustainability of the mackerel stock – potentially a major breakthrough, and cause for optimism for our fleets.
“There was a great deal at stake for both our pelagic and whitefish sectors, which support the businesses, jobs and infrastructure that are so crucial to our coastal communities. That’s why I’m particularly pleased that a new long-term deal has been secured for mackerel, which in 2009 became Scotland’s most valuable stock.”
Scottish Fishermen’s Federation chief executive Bertie Armstrong, who attended the talks in Brussels, gave the deal his reserved approval.
“The problem right from the start was access for Norwegian vessels to complete fishing their mackerel quota and what we have got is a tem year bilateral agreement to continue to fish mackerel sustainably.
“The detail of the plan won’t be to everyone’s liking, but we now have a plan in place that will allow everybody to turn their minds to dealing with Iceland and their ridiculous behaviour with regard to the catching of mackerel.”
Shetland Fishermen’s Association chief executive Hansen Black said the deal would benefit the local pelagic fleet, as it would allow them greater access to mackerel when they were in the North Sea, which is when they in their best condition and most valuable.
“Last year we could catch 30 per cent of our mackerel quota in the North Sea. This year that’s increased to 40 per cent. It’s important for us to get greater access to catch them while they are swimming past the islands,” he said.
The mackerel season has also been brought forward by one month, starting on 1 September instead of 1 October.
Mr Black said there would be further negotiations with the EU in Brussels to increase the percentage even further.
He added: “It is crucial that we had a deal in place that protects that stock in the long term. We welcome the long term deal, but some of our fishermen may be concerned about the level of access that Norway is getting.”