After more than four years of failed coastal
state negotiations, March delivered an important breakthrough in the north-east
Atlantic (NEA) mackerel dispute with the European Union (EU), Norway and the
Faroe Islands agreeing on a five-year catch share management plan.
Through the trilateral deal, the EU has 58.4% of
the total allowable catch (TAC), the Faroes has 14.93% and Norway has 26.67%.
The three parties have agreed to adhere to these shares through to 2018.
For the time being, Iceland remains outside of
the agreement but a strategy exists within the plan should it join at a later
date whereby the country would have access to an unallocated reserve amount of
15.6% of the TAC, confirmed European Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki who was
delighted to at long last see progress made in one of Europe’s most important
but heavily overfished fisheries.
landmark agreement testifies to the EU's commitment to sustainable fishing at
home and abroad,” says Ms Damanaki. “This agreement ensures the long-term sustainability
of this valuable stock.”
The new plan coincides with a significant rise
in the mackerel stock’s spawning biomass and all NEA coastal states are now expecting
a large increase in the TAC that has already been announced for 2014, through
an imminent revision from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES).
In October last year, ICES’ scientists recommended
the 2014 catch should not exceed 889,886 tonnes, up from 542,000 tonnes last
year. However, the council stressed this advice was temporary and that it would
be scientifically benchmarking the stock this year as it felt its previous analysis
was no longer reliable.
An update of the 2014 catch advice is therefore expected in the
second-half of May and many stakeholders reckon it will be ramped up as high as
1.2 million tonnes. Should this prove to be the case, the EU would end up with
a quota of 611,000 tonnes, Norway 279,000 tonnes and the
Faroes 156,000 tonnes.
The fact that the Faroese allocation would be
6,000 tonnes greater than the unilateral catch it set itself last year and
which led to the European Commission (EC) imposing trade sanctions against the
state has raised a few eyebrows. While it is felt there could be increased condemnation
of this allocation from pelagic leaders upon confirmation of ICES’ new
recommendation, any criticism has remained relatively low key thus far.
Meanwhile, the Scottish pelagic industry would
also be pleased with such an amendment to the overall TAC as its 42% share of
the total EU quota would give its fleet an allocation of around 210,000 tonnes,
which is approximately 100,000 tonnes more than it had in 2013. It has
estimated the increased landings would swell its earnings by an additional
£83m, consolidating the species’ position as the UK’s most valuable fish stock.
Hot on the heels of the mackerel agreement,
Scotland and the Faroes also inked a deal that gives the Scottish fleet access
to Faroese waters and 2,000 tonnes of whitefish for the first time in four
years. In return, the Faroes has the opportunity to catch
up to 15,000 tonnes of blue whiting in UK waters. This agreement, estimated to
be worth £3m to the Scots, came into effect on 1 April.
Stakeholders are also hoping the trilateral
agreement will lead to the reinstatement of the stock’s Marine Stewardship
Council (MSC) sustainability certification, which was suspended in 2012 due to
the certifiers’ concerns about overfishing which had been brought by the
coastal states’ inability to agree on quota allocations. The industry will also
be looking for an improved rating for mackerel on the Marine Conservation Society’s
(MCS’s) Fish to Eat list after its very public downgrade in 2013 for similar
reasons to those of the MSC.
Certifiers are believed to be looking at the situation to establish
whether the conditions for meeting the reinstatement of the MSC label are being
met. At the same time, the MCS has confirmed it is liaising with key industry
stakeholders to see how the agreement affects the stock status. The marine
charity does, however, expect it will wait for the results of ICES’ stock benchmarking
before issuing new advice and ratings.
Iceland’s current non-participation in the catch arrangements will be
one of the main issues in both decisions. Another likely hurdle is Greenland’s increased
involvement in the fishery. The country this year set itself an experimental mackerel
TAC of 100,000 tonnes in light of unprecedented demand for commercial fishing
licenses. This new quota is 30,000 tonnes more than the one it set in 2013 and it
defends the decision by claiming the stock is migrating further into
However, the move has been met with some resistance,
such as from Gerard van Balsfoort, chairman of the Northern Pelagic Working Group
(NPWG), who says, “Greenland has copied the approach developed by the Faroe
WF&A readers should note that many of
Greenland’s quotas are held by outside interests as its own fleet is not large
enough to fulfil such large TACs.
Further catch deals
While Iceland currently
sits outside the new mackerel arrangement, it did recently agree on two other important
pelagic plans, the NEA blue whiting quota and the Atlanto-Scandian herring TAC.
In total, the blue whiting
TAC has been set at 1.2 million tonnes with the EU given 331,348 tonnes, the
Faroes 288,549 tonnes, Iceland 194,722 tonnes and Norway 284,352 tonnes. The EC
is particularly pleased with this deal as the EU’s quota is almost
double the one it had last year.
The EU, Iceland, Norway
and the Russian Federation, meanwhile, have set the Atlanto-Scandian herring
TAC at 418,487 tonnes. Initially, the Faroes was “not in a position to come on
board in this arrangement,” said the EU, but should this situation change, the
other coastal states have set aside 21,594 tonnes for the autonomous Danish province, which is based on the sharing arrangement
agreed in 2007.