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Marine / Icelandic catch increase could lead to ‘mackerel war’

AN ICELANDIC decision to increase its northeast Atlantic mackerel catch to 140,240 tonnes has prompted warnings of a ‘mackerel war’.

Greenland has also declared an 18 per cent increase in its mackerel catch to 70,411 tonnes.

The European Commission has denounced the Greenland/Iceland decision and threatened EU sanctions unless co-operation is restored. It also told the Icelandic government that its action “demonstrates a lack of interest in contributing to the sustainable management of the stock.”

International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES) scientists last year recommended cutting the mackerel catch to an all-time low of 318,403 tonnes in 2019, down 42 per cent from 2018.

Fishermen’s representatives at the time criticised the scientific advice and the EU, Norway and Faroe watered that cut down to 20 per cent – or 653,438 tonnes. That meant mackerel quotas for all nations and blocs totalled 1.01 million tonnes at the start of 2019, almost three times the scientific advice.

Following a meeting with Shetland fishing interests, also attended by Lib Dem MP Alistair Carmichael and Scottish parliamentary candidate Beatrice Wishart, the chairman of the European Parliament fisheries committee MEP Chris Davies said a “mackerel war” could threaten the future of Scottish fishermen.

Pelagic boats like the Serene could be affected. Photo: P Johnson/Shetland News

Davies added: “Partnership is essential if shared fish stocks are to be managed sustainably. Iceland’s actions are greedy and irresponsible. They are not those of a friendly nation, let alone of a country that is part of the European economic area.

“I welcome the fact that, despite all the talk of Brexit, the European Commission is acting strongly in defence of Scottish fishermen, and I will ensure that this issue is debated as soon as the European Parliament meets again.”

Shetland Fish Producers’ Organisation chief executive Brian Isbister said that given the theoretical equal importance of the European Parliament and Commission these days, the meeting was a valuable one.

Isbister said that the rigour of the mackerel management regime in the EU was matched by the extremely laxity of external relations with the likes of Iceland and Greenland, which suited themselves how much fish to catch.

Wishart said it was good to have the chair of the European Parliament’s fisheries committee in Shetland to hear about the relationship with Iceland over mackerel stocks.

She said: “His determination that the Commission follow through on their strong rhetoric when it comes to Iceland is exactly the reassurances our fishing community needs.

“This is enormously important to Shetland. We already know all too well the consequences of a deal done badly, not least because we have had to live with consequences of the last one.”