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Bumper mackerel year ahead

ICES recommends a total allowable catch for mackerel of almost 900,000 tonnes.

SCIENTISTS are recommending a 64 per cent increase in Northeast Atlantic mackerel catches for next year.

The International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES) said that despite overfishing in recent years mackerel stocks were in such a good shape as to allow 889,886 tonnes to be caught.

The news was welcomed by fishermen’s leaders who said it could help bring an end to the bitter dispute over quota entitlements in the area.

Faroe and Iceland are at loggerheads with Norway and the EU after the two island states unilaterally increased their share threefold to 282,000 tonnes in 2013.

Now scientists have changed the methods by which they are assessing the size of fish stock, which resulted in ICES latest recommendations.

Chief officer of the Shetland Fishermen’s Association, Simon Collins, said he was pleased that scientists were eventually catching up with what fishermen have been saying for many years.

“This is very positive news. I am delighted to hear from scientists that mackerel, like so many other stocks we fish, are in good health and this confirms what our members have been finding on the ground for some time now.

“I hope this will open the door to finding an agreement with the other coastal states. It definitely will help the political process,” he said.

Scottish fishing minister Richard Lochhead added: “This scientific advice provides a fresh opportunity to try to resolve the on-going dispute with Iceland and the Faroes.

“This can inject a new impetus in the negotiations, and we will continue to make every effort to reach a settlement with Iceland and the Faroes over shared fish stocks.

“We hope they bring forward reasonable and fair proposals. We all need to be flexible in our approaches in order to seize this opportunity.

“We are willing to do a deal but not at any price, and any deal must protect Scotland’s interests.”

Chairman of pelagic processing company Shetland Catch John Goodlad added: “This dramatic increase in the mackerel Total Allowable Catch reflects the fact that the mackerel stock is in exceedingly good shape.

“This is in turn a direct result of the sustainable way that this fishery is now managed within the EU and Norway.”

Iceland’s chief negotiator for mackerel catch quotas, Sigurgeir Þorgeirsson, said: “Today’s announcement from ICES is very good news and will provide a positive scientific platform for the coastal states’ mackerel negotiations later this month.

“It can hardly be doubted that the grossly increased north- and north-westerly migration of the stock into our rich feeding grounds plays an important role in maintaining its size and healthy state.

“We believe strongly that mackerel catch quotas must be grounded in scientific data and an agreement on how to share the stock must reflect these realities.”

Meanwhile, ICES also recommends a huge increase in the allowable catch for blue whiting, from 643,000 tonnes in 2013 to 948,950 tonnes next year.