Fishermen condemn mackerel talks fiasco

Scottish fishermen have condemned Iceland and the Faroes for the breakdown in talks in Reykjavik with the EU and Norway on reaching an international deal for the sustainable management of the North-East Atlantic mackerel fishery.

Ian Gatt, chief executive of the Scottish Pelagic Fishermen’s Association (SPFA), branded this final set of talks with Iceland and the Faroes as a “wild goose chase” with neither of the countries showing any intention of seeking realistic compromise in the negotiations.

Scottish Fisheries Secretary Richard Lochhead, meanwhile, has warned that a third straight year without agreement is a dangerous strategy that is risking the future of what is a very valuable fishery.

Commenting after the breakdown of talks, Ian Gatt said: “We condemn Iceland for inviting Coastal States to Reykjavik for further talks when they had no intention of compromising or tabling a realistic solution to this mackerel catching dispute.

“It was simply a wild goose chase. We should also question why the Faroe Islands turn up to these talks when they contribute nothing to the debate, remain silent and are clearly intent on hammering the mackerel stock again this year.

“It is glaringly apparent that continual negotiation and compromise by the EU and Norway is not going to achieve an agreement with Iceland and the Faroes. Sanctions must now be implemented against Iceland and the Faroes before their summer mackerel fisheries begin.”

“We know the European Parliament is making good progress with the sanction proposal but it will also need European fisheries ministers to endorse the sanction measures. Given that the UK is the largest stakeholder in the mackerel fishery, we call upon Scots fisheries secretary Richard Lochhead and UK fisheries minister Richard Benyon to throw their full weight behind this and ensure that sanctions are in place before these fisheries commence.

Scottish Fisheries Secretary Richard Lochhead said: “It is deeply disappointing and enormously frustrating that we are facing another year without a mackerel deal. The lack of progress this week has been very worrying, with the Faroes in particular demonstrating a lack of willing to reach a deal. We now expect Faroes and Iceland will continue with grossly inflated quotas that are all about short-term selfish gain.

“We recognise mackerel stocks are currently present in seas further west and Iceland has a right to a share. However, it’s unacceptable to opportunistically pursue these massive quotas. The Faroes, meanwhile, don’t even have the capacity to catch so many mackerel, with foreign vessels invited into their waters to pillage the stock on their behalf.

“If overfishing continues, we face the prospect of the mackerel stock falling below safe limits by 2014. That’s why we need the EU to fast-track plans for sanctions against any country engaging in unsustainable fishing outwith international agreements. We cannot allow a stock that Scottish fishing communities have relied upon for generations to be recklessly plundered, year and year. This impasse must come to an end by some means, to secure this fishery for decades to come.”

Mr Gatt added that the SPFA also fully supported the comments made last week by Irish MEP Pat the Cope Gallagher, who has been tasked by the European Parliament to oversee the introduction of new trade measures against non-EU countries engaged in unsustainable fishing practices.

In a statement, Mr Gallagher said that he will propose to the European Fisheries Committee when it meets on February29 to go further than the original EC proposal so as to include all fish and fishery products in the proposed sanctions.

It is now anticipated that Iceland and Faroe will set quotas based on how much fish they can catch when the mackerel stock is in their zone, rather than pursue a sustainable fishery based on an international fisheries agreement, putting the health of this incredibly important stock in jeopardy.