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Scotland seeks help in 'mackerel war'

June 27, 2012 at 6:30 AM   |   Comments

BERGEN, Norway, June 27 (UPI) -- Scotland's fisheries chief says he and his Norwegian counterpart will seek ways to pressure Iceland and the Faroe Islands over "unsustainable" mackerel quotas.

Richard Lochhead said his visit this week to Bergen, Norway, to meet with Norwegian Fisheries Minister Lisbeth Berg-Hansen was to address the "mackerel war" between Scotland, Iceland and the Faroe Islands over the dwindling prized catch.

Talks over unilateral mackerel quota hikes instituted by Iceland and the Faroes broke down last year and Scotland has since been seeking EU sanctions against them.

But no EU measures have materialized. BBC Scotland reported last week it will be September at the earliest before any possible EU action against the Faroes and Iceland can be agreed upon.

That delay, Lochhead said, is endangering this year's mackerel fishery in the North Atlantic.

Securing international agreement for the mackerel fishery -- Scotland's highest value stock and Norway's second after cod -- is something both countries are working hard to achieve," he said.

"We will discuss what more can be done to pressurize the Faroes and Iceland to come to a deal because we must avoid a fifth straight year on unsustainable mackerel fishing, that puts this valuable shared stock at risk."

The Faroes last year set a quota for mackerel at 85,000 tons -- more than three times its previous allowable catch -- while Iceland raised its quota from 130,000 to 146,818 tons, The Scotsman reported.

That move triggered blockades by Scottish trawlermen seeking to stop Faroese vessels from landing their catches in Scotland, the newspaper said.

Scotland's "special relationship" with Norway -- through which the two share the Norwegian Sea fishery -- is worth $382 million, nearly half the Scottish industry's income. Lochhead said it demonstrates the value shared fisheries agreements in the North Atlantic.

Also on the Bergen agenda of the two ministers is issue of fish discards.

The EU Fisheries Council this month announced it had adopted a compromise agreement to phase in a ban on mackerel and herring discards starting in 2014. It would seek to end the practice of discarding dead but healthy and edible fish due to what Lochhead called "ill-fitting and inflexible (EU) rules."

Britain agreed to the compromise but Scotland rebelled during the negotiations in Luxembourg, contending the phase-in would come too late save other species under pressure such as cod, haddock, plaice and sole, The Guardian reported.

"At the recent EU Fisheries Council we reached agreement on a timetable toward the elimination of discards," Lochhead said. "Therefore I will be keen to discuss how Norway operate their discard ban, while also sharing Scottish innovations -- such as use of highly selective fishing gear -- to dramatically cut the level discarding."

Iceland this month appointed Fisheries and Agriculture Minister Sigurgeir Thorgeirsson to head its team of negotiators on mackerel "harvest rights" in the ongoing negotiations, which include Norway, the Faroes, Russia and the European Union.

Reykjavik says it increased its quota only after being "refused admission" to discussions on the division of the mackerel harvest in 2010 "despite its legitimate demand for recognition as a coastal state whose waters mackerel traverse."

The Icelandic ministry claims it is determined to reach an agreement provided the country's "legitimate and major interests" are given "due and fair consideration."

It contends a "very substantial" portion of the annual mackerel runs are within its economic exclusion zone.

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