24th Jul 2021

EU agrees fish quotas amid threat of 'Mackerel war'

  • Mackerel stocks have migrated northward, possibly as a result of rising sea temperatures (Photo: photo_gram)

EU fisheries ministers have agreed national quotas for 2011 during a late-night carve-up in Brussels, while a growing squabble with Iceland over Mackerel catches has raised fresh doubts over Reykjavik's bid to join the EU.

Attending the talks on Tuesday (14 December), EU fisheries commissioner Maria Damanaki said she was considering restrictions that would prevent Icelandic fishing vessels from landing some catches in EU ports after the small island nation dramatically increased its mackerel catch this year.

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Badly hit during the financial crisis, Iceland received a much-needed boost this summer after a greater number of the silvery-blue fish migrated into its more northerly Atlantic waters than is usually the case, possibly as a result of rising sea temperatures.

Reykjavik's decision to cash in on the bumper shoals has enraged the traditional mackerel-fishing nations of Scotland, Ireland and Norway, which have until now managed the catch levels between them.

As a result, Ms Damanaki told ministers her team was already working on concrete measures to prohibit landings wherever an international dispute erupts, reports Reuters.

The move is the latest step in the escalating dispute with Iceland after fishing talks broke down this summer and Reykjavik decided to allow its fishermen to catch 130,000 tonnes of mackerel, compared to previous estimates of 2,000 tonnes.

The dispute has drawn parallels with the 1950s and 1970s 'Cod Wars', which saw clashes between British and Icelandic trawlers and led to a naval stand-off between the two sides. It also highlights the sensitivity of the subject regarding EU accession negotiations.

Battered by its banking-sector meltdown during the financial crisis, Reykjavik made a formal application to join the EU earlier this year. A deal last week with the Netherlands and Britain to repay despositors who lost savings in the online Icesave account appeared to remove one thorny issue in the talks, but the mackerel dispute threatens to reduce already low support for EU accession among Iceland's 320,000 population.

Three EU commissioners, including Ms Damanaki and EU enlargement commissioner Stefan Fuele wrote to the Icelandic government in October, warning that failure to find a solution to the mackerel problem could threaten their relations.

For its part, Iceland says it intends to maintain this year's 17 percent share of the north Atlantic catch in 2011. The government also criticised the EU and Norway this week over their decision to haul in 583,882 tonnes of mackerel in 2011, roughly 90 percent of the allowable catch recommended by scientists.

"If the EU and Norway do not reconsider their decision, they will bear the responsibility of overfishing from the stock next year," the country's mackerel negotiator, Tomas Heidar, warned in a statement.

The dispute was one of the issues much discussed during this week's meeting of EU fisheries ministers, where, true to tradition, politicians agreed Total Allowable Catches (TACs) for different species above what scientists had recommended, each one fighting to maximise their nation's quota.

UK minister for the natural environment and fisheries Richard Benyon said it was clearly time for a change. "After two days of intense negotiations, with no clear winners, I am more convinced than ever that the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) is broken and needs radical reform," he said in a statement.

"I have been fighting hard to protect the livelihoods of our fishermen both now and in the long-term, but what we need is a new CFP so we can better manage our fish stocks and ensure the industry is sustainable," he added.

Proposals to restrict cod fishing in the Celtic Sea, and the division of the English Channel and Irish Sea into smaller management units were among the issues rejected by ministers.

Environmental group Greenpeace was critical of the deal. "Certain red lines set out by the commission were kept, but a large number of quotas are still too high, especially for cod and tuna. It's obvious that the EU is unable to manage its fisheries under current rules," said EU oceans policy director Saskia Richartz.

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