BRUSSELS, Jan. 30 (UPI) -- Scotland has called for a neutral international mediator to enter long-stalled negotiations between the European Union, Norway and Iceland over fishing quotas.
Scottish Fisheries Secretary Richard Lochhead issued the call Monday before a meeting of the EU Fisheries Council in Brussels as disputes between the European Union and Norway on one side and Iceland and Faroe Islands on the other over mackerel and herring catches have escalated.
The European Union and Norway have accused Iceland and the Faroes of putting the sustainability of both stocks in danger with greatly increased unilateral catch quotas over the past three years and have been forced to reduce their own catches as a result.
The European Union, under pressure from Scotland and other members, is mulling sanctions against them.
The latter two countries, meanwhile, say the European Union and Norway are ignoring scientific evidence that more of the fish are feeding in their own territorial waters and contend they're being shortchanged by a deal struck this month limiting them to 10 percent of overall North Atlantic fisheries take.
Lochhead said the introduction of a neutral third party to mediate the long-running dispute could help finally resolve the issue while also renewing a call for sanctions.
"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," he said.
"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."
To get to that point, the Scottish minister added, "I believe we now need to appoint a neutral chair to move us forward. The appointment of an international mediator could help broker an agreement to end this dispute in an objective and neutral fashion."
EU members and Norway this month signed an international fisheries agreement setting the "total allowable catch" for mackerel, herring and other North Atlantic fish stocks for 2013. Under the deal, the European Union and Norway were allocated 90.3 percent of the TAC for the $1.4 billion mackerel catch, while Iceland and Faroes didn't see an increase.
That brought a negative response from Ossur Skarpheoinsson, Iceland's minister for foreign affairs, who told Irish officials holding the rotating EU Council presidency he was "disappointed" with their decision.
Skarpheoinsson "emphasized the need for all parties to work together to find a permanent and sustainable solution, solving the issue at the negotiating table," an official statement said.
Sigurgeir Thorgeirsson, the Iceland's chief fisheries negotiator, told The New York Times the EU is continuing to ignore the evidence that mackerel migration patterns have changed, with the fish now crowding into Icelandic waters.
He said his country needs to unilaterally increase its mackerel catch to make sure other vital species aren't crowded out.
It's "a mackerel invasion," Thorgeirsson told the newspaper. "These fish aren't tourists. They're not coming to our waters just to look around. They're coming to feed."