20th Mar 2018

EU under pressure to avoid 'mackerel war'

The European Commission is under pressure to avoid a 'mackerel war' with Iceland and the Faroe Islands, with EU ministers still undecided on whether to back a compromise proposal.

Talks between EU fisheries ministers in Brussels on Thursday (17 October) broke up without agreement ahead of the latest round of negotiations with the coastal states in London next Wednesday, at which the Commission is expected to make an offer increasing the annual quotas of mackerel that can be caught.

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  • The EU will bid to end a five year dispute over mackerel fishing in London next week (Photo: Erik Christensen, Porkeri - Norden.org)

Going into the meeting which he described as a "single issue Council", Irish fisheries minister Simon Coveney warned that Iceland and the Faroe Islands should not be rewarded for what he termed "their unacceptable and irresponsible actions in respect of the shared mackerel stock over the past number of years.”

Ireland, which currently has a 10.5 percent allocation of the mackerel catch quota, has been angered by the commission's planned proposal to offer 12 percent of the catch of the shared migratory stock to Icelandic and the Faroese fleets.

With Scottish fishermen also keenly affected by the dispute, the UK is expected to join Ireland.

The EU wants to end a five-year impasse between itself and the so-called 'coastal states', which also include Norway. This summer the bloc threatened trade sanctions against Iceland and the Faroes after they ignored quota limits.

"We do want a deal done..but there needs to be a fair distribution of that quota," Coveney told reporters. He called on the commission to take a "tough stance" accusing Iceland and the Faroes of having "abused their position and overfished this stock."

For its part, Iceland and the Faroes point to studies of the stock that indicate that supplies of mackerel are rapidly increasing.

Earlier this month, the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES), which provides guidance on sustainable fishing levels, issued its recommended 2014 Northeast Atlantic mackerel catch level.

The 2014 total catch limit is set at 889,886 tonnes, a 64 percent increase from the 2013 total.

ICES also noted that recent data indicates the stock has expanded north-westwards, particularly during the summer feeding period. 

Sigurður Ingi Jóhannsson, Iceland’s Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture, commented that "the mackerel stock is in strong shape, with the 2013 international trawl survey conducted by Iceland, Norway and the Faroe Islands indicating a stock size of 8.8 million tonnes, far larger than expected.

Speaking after the meeting, EU fisheries commissioner, Maria Damanaki said that she remained "slightly optimistic" that the bloc could avoid a 'mackerel war'.

"Nobody wants a mackerel war, but we don't want an agreement at any price," she said, adding that "if we work together an agreement can be possible".

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