MSP calls for end to Iceland-Faroes ‘mackerel war’

Faroese and Icelandic governments face sanctions over mackerel agreement refusal
Faroese and Icelandic governments face sanctions over mackerel agreement refusal
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RICHARD Lochhead, the Scottish Fisheries Secretary, today called for an international mediator to be appointed to end the long running “mackerel war” with Iceland and the Faroes.

• Richard Lochhead calls for mediator to end Faroese-Iceland mackerel row

• Two nations threatened with sanctions because of refusal to enter into mackerel agreement

The two Nordic nations are being threatened with potential European Union sanctions because of their continued refusal to enter into an international agreement on the division of North Atlantic mackerel stock.

Both Iceland and the Faroes first declared their own quotas for the vital catch three years ago and last week the Faroese were accused of reckless irresponsibility by Mr Lochhead after their government representatives also walked out on talks to set new catch quotas for the North Atlantic herring fishery.

Speaking ahead of a meeting of the EU Fisheries Council in Brussels today, Mr Lochhead said an international mediator should be appointed as a “game changer” to help end the fisheries stalemate and end a dispute with Iceland and the Faroe Islands which is jeopardising the future sustainability of fish stocks and the livelihoods of Scottish fishermen.

Mr Lochhead said: “The Scottish Government has been at the forefront in calling for sanctions against both the Faroe Islands and Iceland in response to their irresponsible setting of unilateral quotas, which between them amount to almost half the scientifically recommended total.

“We continue to press for sanctions to help bring all countries back to the table – but if the impasse is to be broken, this ‘table’ might have to look different. I would therefore be willing to support new approaches if that will help deliver a resolution to this long-stagnant dispute.”

He continued: “I want sanctions in place that help Iceland and the Faroe Islands realise they can’t get away with overfishing international stocks – stocks that are only healthy due to other countries’ responsible measures.

International fisheries negotiations can’t work on the basis that some countries manage a stock only for others to take advantage.

“But beyond that we need all players involved in this fishery - not only the EU and Norway but also the other countries with an interest, including Iceland and the Faroe Islands - to agree a management plan that will safeguard this stock.

To get to this point I believe we now need to appoint a neutral chair to move us forward.”

Mr Lochhead added: “The appointment of an international mediator could help broker an agreement to end this dispute in an objective and neutral fashion.

“I call on my fellow Fishing Ministers to seriously consider this proposal and I will be writing to the EU Fisheries Commissioner, Maria Damanaki, seeking her views.”

The mackerel catch is worth £116 million a year to the Scottish pelagic fleet. But earlier this month the popular oily fish was removed from the coveted list of “Fish to Eat” recommended by the environmental watchdog, the Marine Conservation Society, because of the “overfishing” of the stock.

Scottish pelagic fishermen’s leaders gave a guarded welcome to the proposal for a mediator to be drafted in in a bid to resolve the long running row.

But Ian Gatt, the chief executive of the Scottish Pelagic Fishermen’s Association, warned that he had already received legal advice last year that any such agreement would not be legally binding.

He said:“We would welcome any initiative that brings this dispute to a speedy and fair conclusion, and we would be keen to meet the Minister to hear about his proposals in more detail. However, we did get legal advice last year on the possibility of using an independent arbiter and we were told that the parties involved would not be legally bound by the results of such a process.”

He continued: “The ball is currently very much in the court of Iceland and Faroes for a resolution, given that negotiations won’t resume until they table a sensible compromise offer. For this reason, we still believe that the best approach is for the immediate introduction of sanctions against Iceland and the Faroes for their grossly over-inflated unilateral quotas to help focus minds and bring about a resumption in negotiations.”

Mr Gatt added: “There is also a real need for providing high quality scientific data for the mackerel assessment as there are widespread indications that the stock is actually at a much higher level than currently estimated. A better understanding of the true stock level would also help resolve some of the issues at the heart of this dispute.”

Meanwhile Jacob Vestergaard, the Minister of Fisheries of the Faroe Islands, today issued a statement, defending his Government’s decision to walk out on the herring talks.

He declared: “The Faroe Islands can no longer accept a sharing arrangement that allocates the Faroe Islands a mere five per cent of the total allowable catch. During the last decade, there have been major changes in the distribution of herring in the North east Atlantic. The distribution of herring has shifted in a south-westerly direction, leading to an increased proportion of herring feeding in Faroese waters during the summer. Herring has also been observed to feed in Faroese waters for a longer period than previously. “

He said the Faroese “deeply regretted” the refusal of the other coastal states to consider the Faroese position and their decision to exclude the Faroe Islands from a catch agreement for 2013.

Mr Vestergaard continued: “The time has come to adapt joint herring management to better reflect the realities of the fisheries and legitimate rights of all coastal states, thus providing a more equitable allocation between all the parties Our challenge as responsible fisheries managers is to recognize the obvious changes that have taken place in the marine ecosystems in the Northeast Atlantic region by modernising and adapting our joint management to better fit the realities of, and requirements for sustainable fisheries on which we so depend.

“The Faroe Islands urge our partners in the region to engage with us in a meaningful and forward-looking discussion on how we can best address these challenges and find sustainable solutions for the future of our long-standing cooperation.”

And he concluded: “Recognising that other parties have set their herring quotas for 2013 the Faroe Islands will in the near future be setting a catch limit for herring in waters under Faroese maritime jurisdiction in 2013 in order to ensure that the fisheries operate within a responsible framework for management and control. “