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Mackerel talks break down again

THE COLLAPSE of the latest round of mackerel talks in Oslo has resulted in a flurry of strongly worded comments from across the EU and Norway.

Scottish fishermen leaders have expressed bitter disappointment that the three day-talks have ended in deadlock and are now calling for EU sanctions against Iceland and the Faroe islands.

In a joint statement the European Association of Fish Producers Organisations (EAPO), the Norwegian Fishermen’s Association and the Norwegian Seafood Federation, blamed the unrealistic demands and irresponsible behaviour of both the Faroe Islands and Iceland for the failure of the talks.

Last year, the four parties failed to reach a multi-lateral agreement on mackerel quotas in the Northeast Atlantic after Iceland increased its share in the stock to 150,000 tonnes. Faroes has not set its 2011 quota but is expected to further increase its 2010 share of 85,000 tonnes.

EU and Norwegian fishermen argue that such high quotas are unsustainable and not in accordance with advice from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES). Their joint share in the stock is more than 600,000 tonnes, based on historic fishing rights.

Ian Gatt, chief executive of the Scottish Pelagic Fishermen’s Association, said: “We are bitterly disappointed that the totally unrealistic and intransigent stance taken by Iceland the Faroes during these latest talks has meant that it was not possible to reach an agreement. The EU and Norway offered genuine and meaningful concessions in a bid to find a resolution, but these were rejected.

“The move by both countries to significantly increase their already grossly over-inflated quotas is the height of irresponsibility and could do real damage to a stock that has been sustainably harvested and carefully looked after by the Scottish fleet.

“It is now more essential than ever that the EU imposes meaningful sanctions against Iceland and the Faroes, including putting accession talks with Iceland to join the EU on hold.

“The EU must stand up for the rights of those Member States already in the Union and ensure the stocks we rely on and our businesses are protected from countries on the outside.  Given this is probably the EU’s most valuable fish stock it’s only right and proper that resolution of the dispute is a pre-condition for accepting Iceland into the body of the EU.”

A spokesman for the EAPO added: “We underline that allocation shares can never be based on a pattern of free fisheries, lacking any scientific credibility, which would be the case if the EU and Norway accepted the unrealistic demands by both countries.

“Unfortunately 2011 will see total catches that will most probably exceed the catches advised by ICES.”

The breakdown of the talks will also have an impact on the Scottish whitefish industry, according to Bertie Armstrong, the chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, as it will impact on the bi-lateral whitefish agreement between Scotland and Faroes.

“Scotland’s whitefish fishermen have been steadfast in their support of their colleagues fishing for mackerel and the failure to reach agreement today will have repercussions for the whitefish sector too.

“It could, for example, force Scottish boats that would normally spend part of their time fishing for whitefish in Faroese waters to divert their effort instead to grounds closer to home.

“All these repercussions are a result of the irresponsible behaviour off Iceland and the Faroes, which could result in severe harm to the lifeblood stock of the Scottish pelagic industry, as well reduce important fishing opportunities for a significant number of our whitefish boats.

“This is why it is more essential than ever that the Scottish and UK Governments, along with the EU, exert as much pressure as possible to ensure Iceland the Faroes see sense and reach a fair and proper agreement,” Mr Armstrong said.