SCOTTISH fisheries secretary Richard Lochhead has accused Iceland of taking an excessively large share of mackerel from the sea, despite the decision to cut its quota for the year.
The minister has called for the Icelandic government to reconsider its mackerel quota – saying it will damage Scottish fishing stock.
Mr Lochhead called for an independent mediator to resolve the dispute between the EU, Iceland and the Faroe Islands over how much can sustainably be fished from the waters of the northern seas.
Until recently the EU and Norway shared 90 per cent of the total mackerel quota – with the remaining 10 per cent shared between Iceland and the Faroe Islands.
Scotland’s most valuable catch has also collapsed in value from £1,200 a tonne two years ago to £800 a tonne this year because of Icelandic imports.
Mr Lochhead said: “It is disappointing that Iceland remains intent on taking an excessively large share of the TAC [Total Allowable Catch], a greater share than Scotland, despite their short history in the fishery.
“This will continue to damage our most valuable stock and an opportunity has been missed to show willingness to help bring this dispute to end.
“It is now clear that further steps have to be taken to manage this stock in a sustainable manner.
“I believe that the best way this can be achieved is by the appointment of an independent mediator who can facilitate co-operation in an objective and neutral manner.”
Ian Gatt, chief executive of the Scottish Pelagic Fishermen’s Association, said: “Whilst Iceland is following the lead of the EU and Norway who have already reduced their mackerel quota by 15 per cent, it is an inescapable fact that Iceland is still taking an excessively large share that is fished unilaterally and outwith any international management plan.
“It is important to highlight that while Iceland’s share allocation demands are based on 15 per cent of the total catch, the actual quota they have set themselves is close to 23 per cent.
“This is an issue that can only be resolved by negotiation and the onus is on both Iceland and the Faroes to table a realistic counter offer so as to get the negotiating process rolling again.”
Mackerel is worth millions each year to the Scottish economy and is the fleet’s most valuable stock.
Marine Conservation Society (MCS) Fisheries Officer Bernadette Clarke said the decision to take mackerel off the list of sustainable fish has been taken because of fears about the Icelandic catch.
“The stock has moved into Icelandic and Faroese waters, probably following their prey of small fish, crustaceans and squid,” she said. “As a result both countries have begun to fish more mackerel than was previously agreed.
“The total catch is now far in excess of what has been scientifically recommended and previously agreed upon by all participating countries.”
MCS says good alternatives to mackerel are herring and sardine – both of which are on the charity’s Fish to Eat List.