Anger at breakdown of new mackerel talks

Faroese unwillingness to compromise could be disasterous for longer term prospects of important stock, the Scottish Government has warned.

That was the stark warning from Scottish Fisheries Secretary Richard Lochhead who expressed his deep frustration and anger at the breakdown of a final round of talks between the EU, Norway and the Faroe Islands over the future of mackerel fishing levels in the north east Atlantic.

Two days of negotiations in Copenhagen ended with the Faroese refusing to sign up to a three-way deal that would set catch levels for mackerel in the shared international fishery in 2011.

Pelagic Fishermen’s Association chief executive Ian Gatt described the outcome simply as “unbelievable”.

After Iceland walked out of four-way talks last month, it had been hoped that the EU, Norway and the Faroes could have reached a trilateral agreement that would help safeguard the future of the shared mackerel fishery.

Mr Lochhead, whose Scottish Government officials were part of the EU negotiating team, said: “I am angry and extremely disappointed that these vital three-way talks in Copenhagen have broken down. Given this year’s situation where the Faroese and Iceland had set their own massive unilateral catch quotas outwith international agreements, we were all determined to find a way of resolving this intolerable situation for 2011.

“The EU has done as much as it can to try and work with the Faroes to bring it into a deal that could be accepted by all parties, but it is clear to me that the Faroes are not being reasonable and seem willing to bring about the demise of this valuable stock by their inflexibility.

“What is even worse is that the Faroese are not even taking this mackerel for the benefit of their own pelagic fleet, but to use as currency with Russia.

“Combined with Iceland’s activities, the situation we are now facing could be potentially disastrous for the mackerel stock which Scotland and others have so carefully managed for the last ten years.

“We are being made to suffer for the selfish behaviour of others. It is unacceptable for individual parties to pursue short-term gain by overfishing, putting at risk the sustainability of the mackerel stock. Such a situation benefits no-one.

“It is important now that we work with the UK and the EU to take strong action in order to make it clear that this type of behaviour is not acceptable.”

Echoing those sentiments, Ian Gatt added: “It is unbelievable that after four rounds of negotiations it was not possible to reach an agreement due to the unrealistic demands of the Faroese, and before then, Iceland.

“We would all like more fish but we need to abide by international agreements to ensure that the mackerel stock is harvested responsibly. We utterly condemn the unsustainable fishing practices that the Faroese and Icelanders are now about to embark upon.

“The EU and Norway made the right decision in not buckling under Faroese demands for an unreasonable amount of mackerel. We now call upon the EC to take immediate sanctions against Iceland and the Faroes in the trade of pelagic fish.”

Talks between the EU and Norway will resume on the setting of international mackerel quotas for their fleets, including Scotland.