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Big stocks offer way out of mackerel dispute

POLITICIANS are hoping the increase in mackerel numbers in northern waters can break the deadlock between the European Union, Norway and the island states of Iceland and Faroe.

Talks broke up in London on Thursday between the four parties without agreement on mackerel quotas for next year.

However speaking afterwards, Scottish and UK fishing ministers said they were hopeful a deal could be reached by the end of the year.

Their optimism is based on scientific advice that there can be “a substantial increase” in the mackerel catch next year.

New UK fishing minister George Eustice said: “What has changed is there’s been a big increase in the total stock that’s available, which means we can increase the total allowable catch for everyone.

“It means that people can come to an agreement to cut their total percentage of stock but still fish the same volumes.”

For the past three years Iceland and Faroe have withstood condemnation from the EU and Norway for massively increasing their mackerel catch.

The two island states justified the redistribution by saying as a result of climate change, more mackerel were spending more time in their local waters.

In response Scottish fishermen pressurised the EU to impose trade sanctions against the two independent nations, a move that has met political resistance though trade sanctions have been imposed on Faroe over its unilateral increase in its herring quota.

Eustice described sanctions as “a backward step”.

Meanwhile Scottish fisheries secretary Richard Lochhead said that though he too was optimistic a deal could be reached, it must not come at any price.

“Participants all felt that a clear platform had been created for talks to continue in seeking a resolution to this on-going international dispute. These are due to be scheduled again in the coming weeks,” Lochhead said.

Mackerel is the most valuable fishery in Scotland and Shetland.