VITAL negotiations to determine the catch quotas for many of the Scottish fishing industry’s most lucrative landings will begin in Ireland today.
The talks between the European Union and Norway are expected to set catch limits for cod, haddock and other white fish species in the North Sea in a shared deal with the Norwegians and also set quotas for mackerel in the face of the ongoing dispute between the European Union and the Faroes and Iceland.
The two Nordic nations are continuing to refuse to sign up to an international agreement on mackerel catches and have instead declared their own substantial; quotas for the crucial North Atlantic stock.
Scotland’s pelagic fleet is facing a dramatic 15 per cent cut in its mackerel catch - the industry’s single most valuable species- as a result of what fishermen’s leaders claim is the continued over-fishing of the mackerel stock by Iceland and the Faroes.
The EU Fisheries Council agreed last September to impose sanctions on the two rebel countries, but trade restrictions on the Faroes and Iceland have still to be imposed by the European Union.
Bertie Armstrong, chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, declared: “One of our main priorities at this week’s EU-Norway fisheries negotiations is to ensure that there is a sensible allocation of mackerel and that there is no move to adjust the quota so as to pander to the grossly irresponsible over-fishing of mackerel by Iceland and the Faroes. It would be perverse if our fleet, which has adopted sustainable fishing practices within an international management plan, was to suffer because of the piratical actions of other nations.”
Mr Armstrong said it would also be vital that the Scottish and UK negotiating teams at the EU-Norway talks in Clonakilty, County Cork, ensure that last year’s cod quota is rolled over into 2013.
He stressed that, since 2008, the spawning stock biomass of North Sea cod had doubled. And he continued: “It is imperative that the status quo is maintained on the North Sea cod quota. The science clearly indicates that the cod stock is recovering and cutting the quota would simply lead to increased discarding because of the good quantities of fish that fishermen are encountering.
”For the North Sea, advice based on the EU-Norway management plan is recommending increases in quota for North Sea haddock, whiting, saithe and herring. The scientific advice for all these stocks subject to the EU-Norway Management Plan indicates that they are in a good state and being fished sustainably.
“However, one cloud hanging over the talks will be the quota allocations for mackerel, given the massive over-fishing of this stock by Iceland and the Faroes.”
Richard Lochhead, the Scottish Fisheries Secretary, said: “Our immediate priority is to reach a positive outcome in the EU-Norway talks, including the cod and mackerel quotas. Yet the excessive fishing of the mackerel stock by the Faroes and Iceland means a quota cut is expected for that particular fishery.
“However, I will not accept a double whammy for our pelagic sector, therefore will reject the Commission’s proposals for an even greater quota reduction that would only reward Iceland and Faroes for their irresponsible behaviour.”
He added: “Instead, we need the EU to finally confirm the long overdue sanction measures and take decisive action this year if Iceland and the Faroes continue to overfish the stock. My preference still remains for all parties to return to the negotiating table and to agree a fair agreement, but the ball is firmly in their court.”
Tavish Scott, the Scottish Liberal Democrat’s fisheries spokesman, said: “These are vital talks for local fishermen. We need a constructive, positive and good outcome from these EU-Norway negotiations. The idea that all is calm in Scottish fishing waters for 2013 after the Christmas Fisheries Council is laughable. Our boats still face major financial challenges and therefore these negotiations are extremely important for the year ahead.”
Over 70 delegates from across Europe and Norway are due to meet at the National Seafood Centre in Clonakilty for the week-long talks.
Simon Coveney, the Irish Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, said: “I hope that the question of quotas for mackerel in particular are finalised this week to allow our industry plan for the year ahead.
“I am very concerned about the ongoing crisis associated with the mackerel stock. It is imperative that pressure is applied to Iceland and the Faroes to cease their unsustainable fishing operations and come to the table with meaningful proposals to resolve the impasse. With that in mind, I am seeking a joint approach by Norway and the EU on appropriate measures to address the current overfishing of mackerel by Iceland and the Faroes.”