Scottish fishermen are accusing the Icelandic Government of undertaking a ‘cynical propaganda exercise’ by attempting to drive a wedge in the UK seafood industry in a desperate last ditch effort to justify its gross over-fishing of the north-east Atlantic mackerel stock.
The Embassy of Iceland in London and Iceland’s Ministry of Industries and Innovation met in Lincolnshire earlier this week for the local seafood industry and other fishing industry stakeholders in a bid to try and gain support for the massive unilateral increase in its north-east mackerel quota outwith any international agreement.
Iceland, who caught very little mackerel prior to 2008, set themselves a mackerel quota for 2012 of 145,000 tonnes, putting the health of the stock in jeopardy.
The Faroe Islands also set itself a massive unilateral quota, which was so large that it had to invite foreign vessels to catch the stock on their behalf.
For the last four years, a protracted serious of attempts by the EU and Norway to reach a sensible deal on mackerel have been repeatedly rebuffed by Iceland and the Faroes.
The widespread anger caused by their unsustainable fishing practices and intransigent negotiating position recently led to the EU agreeing a sanctions package against both Iceland and the Faroes.
This has led to the fear amongst fish processors in Grimsby and Hull that they may lose access to Icelandic whitefish supplies, such as cod and haddock.
Ian Gatt, chief executive of the Scottish Pelagic Fishermen’s Association, says the Iceland Government is now trying to take advantage of these concerns by holding a briefing session in Lincolnshire in a bid to create a split in the UK seafood industry.
“This is a cynical ploy where the Icelandic government intends to use spin to try and gain support for its totally indefensible over-fishing of the north-east Atlantic mackerel stock,” he said.
“We are very sympathetic to the concerns of the Humber seafood processing sector and we would be happy to meet with them as it is important that they are made aware of the true background to this dispute, which is threatening a UK fish stock resource of considerable value and for which we and our other international partners in the EU and Norway have been sustainably harvesting for many years.
“We believe the Icelanders will use the briefing session to claim that they are committed to sustainable mackerel fishing. This is a quite ludicrous assertion as their approach from the outset has never been to put the health of stock first for the benefit of all participants in the fishery, but instead hold it to ransom for their own advantage and without any due concern to the potential damage being inflicted upon it.
“The EU and Norwegian negotiating teams have made several fair offers during the protracted negotiation process, but these have been rebuffed each time with Iceland and the Faroese being totally intransigent and showing absolutely no intention of trying to seek a reasonable compromise.
“The truth behind Iceland’s sustainability credentials is that it has increased its mackerel catch since 2005 from 363 tonnes per year to 145,000 tonnes – a 40,000% increase and totally out of line with scientific advice. Iceland says it is seeking a 15% share of the overall north-east Atlantic mackerel catch, but for the last three years it has been taking an allocation of 24%.
“That is a totally inconsistent position and underlines their sheer irresponsibility when it comes to sensible and responsible fisheries management.”
“In addition, the science has been saying that the expansion of the mackerel stock, which has led to some of it for a small period of the year moving into Icelandic and Faroese waters, is down to the sustainable fishing activities and good husbandry of the EU and Norwegian fleets. We recognise that there needs to be a deal reached on this dispute, but it must be a fair and equitable agreement based on the facts rather than spin.”