Richard Lochhead

The Scottish Fisheries Secretary has warned that a third straight year without an international mackerel deal will put at risk the future of this very valuable fishery.

Further negotiations have taken place in Bergen this week between the EU, Norway, Faroe Islands and Iceland, to seek agreement on each country’s mackerel quotas for 2012 and beyond.

Talks closed on Friday with an decision to resume discussions in early February. Three previous rounds have failed to reach a deal for 2012, while numerous rounds of talks since 2009 have been unsuccessful.

The warning from Richard Lochhead highlights the danger of nations pursuing a high-risk strategy of ignoring the eventual outcome of continued overfishing: the collapse of the mackerel stock. Based on 2010 prices, the scientifically supported landings of North East Atlantic mackerel in 2011 and 2012 would be worth more than £1 billion, of which Scotland’s share would be around 20 per cent.

Mr Lochhead said: “Mackerel is a healthy and highly sought after product, as illustrated by increasing landing prices in recent years. All those who fish the stock are benefiting from this, however unless we all commit to meaningful negotiations, a £1 billion fishery could be compromised.

“It’s a highly dangerous and short-term outlook to overfish mackerel year after year, as is currently happening. Ultimately, taking such risks with the stock could have devastating consequences for all of the fishing industries and communities that currently rely on it.

“If fishing continues at current levels we face the prospect of the mackerel stock falling below safe limits by as early as 2014. That’s why Scotland’s priority is to secure an international agreement that will see mackerel sustainably fished within the parameters of the scientific advice.”

Using the 2010 Scottish average landing price of £814 per tonne to provide an illustrative example, the total North East Atlan mackerel catch limits recommended by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) show such landings for 2011 and 2012 would be worth more than £1 billion. Recommended TAC of 646,000t for 2011 comes to £526 million and a 2012 TAC of 639,000t would be worth £520 million, giving a total value of £1.04 billion.

In 2011 the Faroe Islands unilaterally set themselves a mackerel catch of 150,000 tonnes, up 75 per cent on 2010 and more than five times their internationally agreed share in 2009. Meanwhile, Iceland, who caught very little mackerel prior to 2008, set their own increased Total Allowable Catch (TAC) of around 147,000 tonnes last year.