ANN CAHILL: Mackerel quotas under threat due to over-fishing by some countries

QUOTAS for the country’s most valuable fish, mackerel, could be facing cuts next year instead of being increased because of the actions of Iceland and the Faroe islands.

Fisheries Minister Seán Connick warned that the huge increase in the fish being taken from the sea by Iceland and the Faroe Islands could not continue.

Ireland was among those countries that warned Iceland could face sanctions by the EU if they do not negotiate and reach an acceptable agreement with the European Commission in negotiations next month.

The EU and Norway has a quota of 570,000 tonnes of mackerel with the EU taking two thirds of this. This was considered close to the biologically safe maximum of the species which was under pressure before conservation measures were taken.

But this year Iceland unilaterally decided to take 130,000 tonnes of mackerel which is 25 times what they fished four years ago. The Faroe islands decided to take 85,000 tonnes, which is three times their normal quota.

“This will have a big impact. It’s out of control and is not sustainable – in a year or two we will have a major problem with the stocks,” said Mr Connick.

Mackerel is fished for about six months of the year and provides a livelihood for a wide range of fishermen.

Ireland’s quota is about 62,000 tonnes, which is worth about €60 million directly to fishermen and about €120m to the 12 Irish fish processing factories that depend mainly on mackerel.

The stocks are healthy now because EU countries reigned in the quantity of mackerel being fished over the past few years.

Irish and other fishermen should be looking forward to gaining from the health of the stocks in the coming quota setting in December, but this is now unlikely to happen if Iceland and the Faro Islands continue to catch at their current rate, Mr Connick said.

As a result of the stock recovery, more plentiful supplies of mackerel were to be found closer to Iceland. Apart from trying to rebuild its bankrupt economy, Iceland is also trying to build up its fish quota as it prepares to join the EU and to enhance the share of fish it would be likely to be granted under the quota system.

The Faroe islands had a quota under the EU but on foot of Iceland’s action, walked away and unilaterally gave itself triple its previous quota of mackerel.

About eight countries spoke against Iceland’s actions and a number, led by Britain, called for sanctions. These would likely affect the country’s sales of fish to the EU – its main market, and agreements on other fish species with them also.

The Netherlands was the only country that linked the mackerel issue with Iceland’s application for membership. The country, which imploded two years ago when its banks collapsed, is being pushed by the Dutch and British to repay billions of euro to compensate for lost deposits.

Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki will negotiate with Iceland and the Faroe islands in October and report back to the fisheries ministers later in the month.

Mr Connick said they would reserve their position until they see the outcome of these talks.


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