Representatives of fishing industry organisations within the EU are calling out the actions of some coastal states in setting unilateral quotas – and subsequently landing high-value mackerel for fishmeal production as a ploy in seeking to justify these inflated quotas.
EAPO and Europêche are demanding that the highest priority be given to achieving an all-party mackerel sharing arrangement – as sharing arrangement consultations on Northeast Atlantic pelagic stocks are about to be resumed this month.
They stress that the UK-Norway bilateral deal has not ended inflated, unjustified unilateral quotas and fails to contribute to a conducive environment for the conclusion of those consultations. They state that Norway and the Faroe Islands have continued to operate on the basis of excessive, unjustified unilaterally set quotas.
The European operators also criticise the Faroe Islands allowing large volumes of mackerel to be landed for reduction to fishmeal and oil – which has been facilitated by Norway, where much of this fish was landed with permission of the Faroese authorities. The European operators claim that as much as two-thirds of the Faroese and Icelandic mackerel catches have been processed into fishmeal and oil.
‘In order to attempt to catch and justify their unwarranted unilateral quota, the Faroe Islands has been fishing mackerel on the summer feeding grounds in the international zone, when the fish are in poor condition after the spawning migration,’ said Tim Heddema, Chair of the EAPO Northern Pelagic Working Group and Europêche Vice-President, speaking on behalf of the EU pelagic fishing sector.
‘This is a wasteful practice that will have a long-lasting and damaging effect on the mackerel stock.’
He commented that the EU industry is once more strongly urging the European Commission and the Council of the EU to take concrete action against these practices and make use of the instruments at their disposal, such as select trade measures.
‘The unilaterally set Northeast Atlantic mackerel quotas by Norway and Faroe Islands, at unjustified levels and on the basis of a one-dimensional zonal attachment approach deemed highly flawed by scientists from all Coastal States, remain unacceptable and work against the efforts to pursue an all-inclusive agreement,’ said Tim Heddema.
‘We repeat our urgent call for an immediate EU response to stop Norway and Faroe Islands continuing their unsustainable and irresponsible behaviour, to prevent further overfishing of a stock that is one of the most important and valuable to the EU. The EU has stuck to the shares agreed in 2014, but right now responsible EU businesses are at risk of being put out of business for doing the right thing.’
All this is taking place against a background of failed attempts to conclude negotiations on the allocation of Northeast Atlantic mackerel quotas before 31st March this year, when the parties decided to suspend talks for the time being and dedicate their time to other stocks.
At that time the EU pelagic sector predicted that some parties would continue to set excessive, unjustified unilateral quotas, which would lead to another year of catches exceeding the Total Allowable Catch that has been set in line with scientific advice – and they state that this is exactly what happened, with Norway and Faroe Islands again having inflated their initial quotas by around 55% compared to levels commensurate with the most recent Coastal States mackerel sharing arrangement.
According to the European operators, the bilateral mackerel agreement for 2023 between the UK and Norway grants Norway access to UK waters to fish up to 60% of their TAC, on the condition that Norway reduces its unilateral TAC and pays in quota for access. Norway agreed to reduce their TAC to 31.95% from 35% and transfer 24,635 tonnes of mackerel to the UK.
‘This deal will have no impact on the overfishing, unless the UK decides not to utilise the additional mackerel they received. Norway printed the money themselves and then paid with it. Moreover, one could be forgiven for thinking that the UK has decided on a ‘landing zone’ for a permanent Norwegian share that is unrealistic and based on artificially increased track records,’ Tim Heddema said.
‘For truly sustainable management of Northeast Atlantic mackerel a full-fledged sharing arrangement is needed between as many parties as possible, and respecting real track records. The bilateral UK-Norway agreement cannot replace or be enshrined in such a Coastal States agreement. The parties have all shown themselves capable of reaching bilateral, trilateral and multilateral deals, albeit to differing degrees of satisfaction. With the right atmosphere, this should again be possible when mackerel discussions resume in September and October. The EU industry stands ready to work towards a successful outcome with all those involved. In the meantime, excessive, unjustified unilaterally set mackerel quotas must be stopped.’