The talks between the EU, Norway and the Faroe Islands concluded by agreeing a 15 per cent reduction in mackerel quotas after opening discussions had considered advice which suggested cuts at more than twice that level.
It means the Total Allowable Catch (TAC) for 2016 will be 10 per cent higher than five years ago.
Scottish Fisheries Secretary Richard Lochhead welcomed the fact that a significantly larger cut had been avoided. He said: “I very much welcome this agreement – it is a good deal for our fleet and provides clarity on levels of quota for 2016. It is particularly good news that all parties committed to a much needed long term management plan for the stock. This establishes the rules for setting catch levels over the coming years. By committing to this agreement we have pegged the reduction in 2016 to 15 per cent, underlining the importance of collective international management of fish stocks.
“Despite this reduction, it is important to note that the overall impression of the stock is still of one which has increased very significantly from its low points of a decade ago. This confirms the industry observations of increased fish, but the latest advice says that the increase is just not as big as was previously thought.
“This year’s scientific assessment of the stock was not straightforward. The original advice had been for an even greater reduction of 37 per cent but it was agreed that a longer term plan should be put in place and that it was sensible to apply a more moderate reduction this year. It clearly shows the real need for robust data in future assessments, and Scotland will play an active role in next year’s international egg survey. This will be important in informing future scientific reviews of the stock which, in combination with the new plan, will ensure the sustainable management of Scotland’s single most valuable stock in the years to come.”
Ian Gatt Chief Executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Pelagic Association, said: “I very much welcome this three-party agreement which acknowledges the need for a sensible approach to setting of the TAC with a cut restricted to 15 per cent, thanks to a stability mechanism in the new plan that acknowledges the importance of future survey work required on the stock.”
Mr Lochhead also welcomed the European Fisheries Council’s decision last night (Thursday October 22, 2015) to continue at an increased level of banking for pelagic stocks for another year to help respond to the difficult market conditions created by the Russian trade sanctions.
In the wake of the Russian food embargo, the Cabinet Secretary called on the Commission to do more to help fishermen, as highlighted in his five-point action plan for the sector.
He said: “The Russian trade measures continue to create very fluid market conditions for the Scottish pelagic industry. They removed a major market for our pelagic fisheries and our industry has had to work hard to find new emerging markets. I therefore strongly support and very much welcome this agreement at the Fisheries Council in Luxembourg that continues to provide our industry with the tools it needs to respond to these challenges. Allowing the industry flexibility to choose to ‘bank’ a proportion of this year’s quota and catch it next year instead allows them to react quickly and plan a way through difficult trading conditions.
“The Council respected the latest scientific advice on this issue and reduced the proportion of mackerel that may be banked this year compared to last year. Nevertheless this is still a very important mechanism and represents a further strand of support for the Scottish industry under the five-point plan I announced in August last year to work with the industry to tackle the challenge of the Russian trade sanctions.”
The 2015 UK quota for mackerel is around 243,000 tonnes. This means that fishermen could potentially reserve up to around 42,500 tonnes (17.5 per cent) for use in 2016.
Ian McFadden O.B.E., Chairman of the Scottish Pelagic Processors Association Ltd, said: “The Scottish Pelagic Processors Association welcomes this support from Marine Scotland and the understanding from the EU Commission. This will provide a measure of stability in a market that is even more difficult than last year. The ban on exports to Russia continues and that was a very important market for us.
“That Iceland has now been included in the Russian list of banned countries has served to increase pressure on prices as Iceland tries to market their mackerel catch. Buyers will now have to commit to purchasing more readily with the possibility that the entire tonnage of mackerel will not be caught and the possibility of oversupply is thereby diminished. In other words this provides a very useful lever to the Scottish pelagic industry in a difficult market.”