Iceland and Faroes facing near certain EU mackerel export ban –

Iceland and Faroes facing near certain EU mackerel export ban Published:  21 December, 2010

ICELAND and the Faroe Islands are now facing an almost certain ban on mackerel exports to the European Union. Last night Iceland was firmly put in the international dock over what is regarded as a brazen decision to increase its self-proclaimed mackerel quota.

The move was welcomed by both Scottish ministers and fishing leaders as a just punishment for the two countries’ “reckless behaviour”.

Until yesterday, the Icelandic Press had been reporting that Reykjavik would keep its catch limit at the 2010 level of 130,000 tons, thus leaving some room for further negotiations. But it has effectively stuck two fingers up at the European Union member states and Norway with a 146,881 ton quota for 201, an increase of 16,818 tons. The Faroe Islands have yet to announce their quota, but predications are that it could also declare an increase.

Not surprisingly,Scottish fishermen have condemned the Icelandic move which has firmly placed the country  at odds with the European Union and Norway. Both the Scottish Pelagic Fishermen’s Association (SPFA) and Scottish Fisheries Secretary Richard Lochhead hit out at  Iceland’s move. SPFA chief executive Ian Gatt said the decision smacked of desperation and was “sheer political posturing”.

What is surprising is that a country which supposedly prides itself on good fishing management – its cod fishery was this weekend officially confirmed as being responsibly managed – should take such a gung-ho attitude over mackerel.

The question now is: What does the EU and Norway do next? Europe’s fisheries commissioner Maria Damanaki is now certain to push through a  ban on mackerel exports to EU countries. But given the current world demand for quality fish protein, they would have little difficulty in selling their mackerel to countries outside the EU, notably Russia and China. Mr Lochhead said: “Salt is rubbed in to the wound by the fact the Faroes have gone ahead with a backhand deal to sell their mackerel quota to Russia.”

A total ban on all Icelandic fish exports, particularly cod and haddock, is thought highly unlikely and would not be welcomed by the Humber’s many fish processing factories.

The move will certainly put in jeopardy Iceland’s application to join the EU. However, that would be welcomed by the country’s fishing industry and a growing number of Icelanders.

With mackerel worth around £135 million to the Scottish economy, something will have to be done. Iceland has shown in the past that when it comes to fishing disputes it can be doggedly stubborn as former deep water trawler ports like Grimsby, Hull and Aberdeen can testify to their cost. Ian Gatt is probably right when he described the move as political posturing, but the next few months will test to the full Europe’s determination against that of Iceland.