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No Agreement Reached; But What About the Mackerel?

23 February 2012, at 12:00am

EUROPE - With the final mackerel talks taking place and no agreement reached, what will be the fate of the Northeast Atlantic mackerel fishery in 2012, writes Lucy Towers, TheFishSite newsdesk assistant?

The final mackerel talks held in Iceland last week failed to reach an agreement. Representatives from Iceland, the Faroe Islands, Norway and the UK have being blaming each other for the lack of compromise and the inability to reach an agreement, but it seems that everyone has forgot what is at the heart of the debate, the mackerel stocks themselves.

Whilst Scotland claims to have been playing by the rules, Iceland and the Faroes have been accused of determining their own quotas and overfishing, therefore putting pressure on the stocks.

In 2010, International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) reported that catches in Icelandic and Faroese waters had risen to around 21 per cent of the total quota. The rapid increase in Iceland's and The Faroes' catch from 2006 to present is unsustainable and therefore putting pressure on the fishery.

Due to the increased pressure on the stocks, ICES has advised that catches of mackerel in 2012 should be between 586,000 tonnes and 639,000 tonnes.

"Regardless of how or when the dispute is solved, the most important part is that collectively the Nations involved stay within the overall sustainable catch," ICES told TheFishSite.

Of course reaching an agreement on who has the right to the mackerel stocks was never going to be easy. ICES confirmed that the stocks are moving, and over the past few years they have migrated into the Icelandic Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) waters for feeding and spawning.

In this regard, Iceland and the Faroes have felt that they have a right to an increased share of the stock. The Icelandic Ministry of Fisheries stated that its quota for 2012 has been limited to around 145,000 tonnes (16 to 17 per cent of the total quota) with the EU and Norway taking the remaining share.

In a joint statement EU Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki and Norwegian Fisheries Minister, Lisbehth Berg-Hansen stated that: "If the EU and Norway had followed the same Icelandic and Faroese logic for the justification of setting quotas, then the total fishing pressure on the stock would go totally out of control."

It is therefore important that an arrangement can bet met that prevents unsustainable fishing from continuing before it is too late.

Although ICES cannot comment on the fishing rights, a spokesperson for ICES told TheFishSite that if the parties involved could agree on some principles for who has rights, which were related to the distribution of mackerel then, in time, ICES would be able to provide advice. However, as it stands now with no such principles agreed, ICES is not in a position to analyse or provide advice.

ICES noted that whether the dispute is settled for good or only a temporary solution is met, the nations should work to stay within the overall sustainable catch.

Further pressure to reach an agreement has also been applied by the Marine Stewardship Council, which stated that if the issues are not resolved then the North East Mackerel Fisheries will have their MSC certification suspended from the 30 March 2012.

Shetland MSP, Tavish Scott, is also suggesting that the Scottish Government support EU sanctions to be imposed on Iceland and Faroes as the damage to fish stocks from the unregulated fishing will be greater this year than last.

It is therefore clear that a permanent, or at least temporary, agreement must be reached. Although easier said than done, the nations involved must put aside their economic concerns and focus on protecting/ sustainably fishing the mackerel stocks before it depletes and fails to provide anything.

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