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Unilateral, Unfounded Quotas

Sustainability Politics

EU - Unilateral decisions by Iceland and the Faroe Islands to increase their mackerel catches were severely criticized by Fisheries Committee MEPs in a debate with experts on Wednesday (29 September). MEPs called for a strong response from the EU, and also advocated long-term and multilateral solutions such as an agreement between the states involved and improvements in international fisheries management.

The Fisheries Committee debate took place two weeks before coastal state consultations (EU, Norway, Iceland and the Faroe Islands), on 12–14 October in London. The aim is to secure a solution that would ensure the viability of the mackerel stock.

Mackerel stock healthy – but not guaranteed

Gerard van Balsfoort (Pelagic Regional Advisory Council, Netherlands), showed that mackerel management in the past 20 years in the Northeast Atlantic has been a success, thanks to the efforts of the EU and Norway. However, the good state of the stock was the reason why Iceland and Faroe Islands increased their catches unilaterally. Although very few mackerel spawn near their coasts, being highly migratory, the stock is abundant in their waters.

Mr van Baalsfoort also pointed out that although Iceland has never been party to the Coastal States Agreement, the Faroe Islands had arguably breached it, by tripling its usual share.

Abundance not due to climate change

Ian Gatt (Pelagic Regional Advisory Council, Scotland), rejected claims that the current abundance of mackerel further in the north was due to climate change. It is result of careful stock management, he said. He urged the committee to "keep up pressure on the European Commission" to ensure that "our fisheries entitlement is simply not given away". Progress will not be possible without good scientific advice, good management plans and an international fisheries agreement, he concluded.

Struan Stevenson (ECR, UK), highlighted the sharp contrast between mackerel stocks and those of other white fish, 80% of which are overfished in the EU. Iceland and the Faroe Islands are "getting a free ride on the back of the EU's and Norway's management efforts", he said.

Long-term solutions needed

Isabella Lövin (Greens/EFA, SE), suggested that the case of mackerel should be viewed in a broader context, noting that it is often difficult to agree on migratory fish. She urged the EU "to be really firm" in its efforts to strengthen regional organisations and improve the international management of fisheries, and to take the "ecosystems" approach more seriously.

Ulrike Rodust (S&D, DE), agreed that the unilateral catch increases by Iceland and the Faroes could make the mackerel fishery unsustainable, but acknowledged that "we are a long way from having a perfect fishery here in the EU". She called for legal and scientifically-grounded solutions, rather than protests. Of Iceland, she said "I cannot accept that a country wanting to join does not respect EU rules."

Deal – but not at any cost

"Europe has been making huge efforts (..) we absolutely cannot accept this behaviour", said Alain Cadec (EPP, FR), also observing that the decisions on mackerel would not help Iceland's efforts to join the EU, and adding that "they need our support."

/ European Commission representative Edward Spencer said that the executive will seek agreement among the coastal states on a long-term management plan and sharing agreement, but "not at any cost". Any claims by Iceland and the Faroe Islands need a sound basis, he added.

In conclusion, Mr Stevenson said that he had suggested inviting the responsible ministers of Iceland and the Faroe Islands to the 26-27 October committee meeting.