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War of words over mackerel

A WAR of words has broken out after the Faroese government unilaterally decided to triple its mackerel quota, following the example of Iceland earlier this year.

European fisheries commissioner Maria Damanaki has warned that both Iceland and Faroe could face serious consequences if they do not back down on increasing their quota to 130,000 tonnes and 85,000 tonnes respectively.

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However the Faroese Shipowners’ Association, which represents the islands’ fishing vessels, says the government had acted “sensibly and responsibly” after being excluded from the 2010 fishing agreement between the EU and Norway for a total allowable catch of 572,000 tonnes.

FSA chairman Viberg Sørensen said the agreement failed to recognise the significant westward shift of the mackerel stock into their waters, and several attempts to negotiate a fair increase had failed.

“Between themselves alone, the EU and Norway allotted themselves ten per cent more than the total catch recommended by ICES for the entire mackerel stock — disregarding any share for the Faroes, Iceland, or Russia.

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“Viewed in this light, the steps taken to blockade our ships from landing, not to mention the proposed boycott of our seafood exports, are manifestly unfair.”

He said a growing body of scientific evidence confirmed mackerel were moving ever more into Faroe’s exclusive economic zone and now even spawned there.

“So it would only be reasonable to take such evidence into account in a revision of the quota sharing principles used in the international mackerel arrangement,” he said.

Mr Sørensen added that fishing was the basis of the islands’ entire economy and that it was managed “rigourously…with responsibly set quotas and a host of technical restrictions (and) clearly defined limits to the fishing and every kilogram caught is reported along with information on fishing location, time, and vessel”.

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Scottish fishing secretary Richard Lochhead described the Faroese and Icelandic move as “extremely damaging and irresponsible”, saying it would undermine Scottish mackerel fishing, worth £135 million in 2009, one third of the country’s entire catch value.

Mr Lochhead said: “Both the Faroe Islands and Iceland have taken short-sighted and selfish decisions that could be disastrous for global mackerel stocks. Scotland is at the fore of promoting responsible, sustainable fishing practices therefore these unacceptable actions are deeply frustrating for Scottish fishermen.”

Scottish Fishermen’s Federation chief executive Bertie Armstrong added: “It is astonishing that the Faroese have decided to join Iceland by following this same ruinous path, given that such an increase in catch uptake could have serious implications for the sustainability and overall health of the mackerel stock.

“We urge the Faroese to come back into the fold of sensible fisheries management that they have been part of for the last 30 years. Otherwise there could be serious consequences for international fisheries management that will damage all stakeholders.

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“As far as Iceland is concerned, we are of the firm view that their action should impact upon their plans for accession to the EU. No country should be allowed into the membership of the EU that cannot demonstrate its ability to behave within reason.” 

However SNP MEP Ian Hudghton said there appeared to be increasing opposition to EU membership in Iceland.

“There is no attraction whatsoever for Iceland in being offered the opportunity to join the EU common fisheries policy as it stands. Therefore there is no leverage to be had, on the mackerel issue, from threatening to block Iceland’s accession to the EU and the CFP,” he said.
Meanwhile Mrs Damanaki said: “Should the current anarchic situation in the mackerel fisheries continue with unreasonable positions being maintained by parties, then the commission will contemplate all necessary measures to conserve the mackerel stock and safeguard EU interests.”

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