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Mackerel war heats up

SCOTTISH fishing leaders have called for harsh economic sanctions against the Faroe Islands after they almost doubled their mackerel quota for 2011 following the breakdown of multilateral talks last week.

On Monday Faroese fisheries minister Jacob Vestergaard announced that the small island group intended to catch 150,000 tonnes of the most valuable species in north European waters, up from 85,000 tonnes last year.

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This is more mackerel than is caught by the entire Scottish fleet, more than three times the amount caught by the eight Shetland pelagic trawlers.

However Mr Vestergaard insisted it was far less than the EU and Norway, who between them will catch 646,000 tonnes this year.

Last week Iceland and Faroe walked away from negotiations with the European Union and Norway for the second year running, claiming they were entitled to increase their catch limit because of the species’ growing abundance in their waters.

Last year the EU and Norway responded by banning all Icelandic and Faroese fishing boats from landing their catches in their ports after a similar unilateral quotas were set after talks broke down.

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Mr Vestergaard said: “This is certainly no way to cooperate on finding a fair solution to mackerel management, for which we are all responsible.”

He blamed the other states for the talks’ collapse, saying that all parties must approach the issue on “an equal footing…with a clear recognition of the changes in the distribution of the mackerel stock”.

On Tuesday Shetland Fishermen’s Association chief executive Hansen Black said it was time to get tough and called for the EU to ban all fish products from Faroe and Iceland, saying that would end the dispute within a week.

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Under historic agreements Faroe would be have been allowed to catch 30,000 tonnes of mackerel this year, he said.

“They are setting a quota five times higher than their agreed position. This is reckless and irresponsible behaviour and we can’t let it continue to undermine the market and the fishery itself.

“We could easily catch five times more than our quota. If that happened the fish wouldn’t go into Faroese waters because the core stock has always been in EU waters. The only reason it is more abundant in their waters is because the size of the stock has been increasing.”

Scottish fishing leaders are now seeking a meeting with UK fishing minister Richard Benyon to start applying pressure on Brussels for an EU-wide ban on all Faroe and Icelandic fish.

The EU is the main market for both countries, whose economies are heavily reliant on fisheries exports. Faroe has an agreement with Russia to exchange mackerel for Barents Sea cod, which is exported predominantly to the UK.

Mr Black said: “Politicians have been cautious about being too provocative and breaking any chance of an agreement but the time for kid gloves has gone and we need real sanctions to bring this to a head.”

Scotland expects to catch under 140,000 tonnes of mackerel this year, with a value of about £135 million. The Shetland boats will be allowed to catch just over 40,000 tonnes between them.

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