Britain prepares for mackerel war with Iceland and Faroe Islands

פורסם: 30 באוג׳ 2010, 4:16 על ידי: Sustainability Org

Scottish fishermen and politicians call for EU action after two countries raise combined quota from 27,000 to 215,000 tonnes

Mackerel The future of mackerel as a healthy, sustainable fish is at stake after Iceland and the Faroe Islands unilaterally awarded themselves the lion's share of north Atlantic stocks. Photograph: H Taillard/Corbis

It's summer, and off the coast of Britain anglers are enjoying a blue-grey abundance of mackerel. Barbecued, smoked, or baked in cider, this firm favourite provides a seasonal guilt-free treat, certified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC).

But in a dispute echoing the cod wars of the 1970s, Britain and the EU are on the brink of a mackerel war with Iceland and the Faroe Islands, who have ripped up agreed quotas, unilaterally awarding themselves the lion's share of north Atlantic stock.

UK fishermen are furious; the EU is condemnatory. Those in the industry, meanwhile, claim that the dispute puts at risk not only the future of Britain's pelagic fishing industry, but the future of mackerel itself as a healthy, sustainable fish.

Last week 50 fishermen blockaded Peterhead port in Aberdeenshire, physically preventing the Faroese vessel Jupiter from offloading 1,100 tonnes of the fish to a processing plant.

Now a prominent Scottish MEP is calling for sanctions against Iceland and the Faroes, an island group situated between Britain and Iceland and an autonomous province of Denmark.

Labelling them "modern-day Viking raiders" engaging in a free-for-all, Struan Stevenson, the senior vice-president on the European parliament's fisheries committee, says only the threat of sanctions can bring the two nations to heel.

"Negotiations are ongoing. But what will it take short of announcing we are going to institute a trade war?

"That is what I am actually suggesting now. We should use that as threat. We should follow the example of the fishermen in Peterhead. We should threaten to close all the EU ports to Faroese and Icelandic vessels, block all imports from these countries, and show them that we mean business," he said.

It should be a key issue in Iceland's EU accession talks, he said. "Here is a nation coming to the table to become a member of the EU. Yet, what have they given us? A volcanic ash cloud. Financial problems with their referendum and refusing to pay the debts they owe Britain. And now they are acting in this extraordinarily aggressive fashion over fish stocks.

"What they are doing is effectively illegal, unreported, unregulated fishing."

Part of the problem would seem to be climate change, with mackerel seeking colder waters. Seeing such abundance, cash-strapped Iceland has hiked an agreed quota of 2,000 tonnes up to 130,000 tonnes. The Faroes, which along with the EU and Norway is a signatory to the Coastal Waters Agreement, did likewise, arbitrarily increasing their 25,000-tonne quota to 85,000 tonnes.

If maintained, said WWF Scotland, the combined 2010 mackerel quota would result in the fish being exploited 35% above the scientific recommendation set by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, and spell a "death sentence" for precious fish stock.

Ian Gatt, the leader of the Scottish Pelagic Fishermen's Association, believes that puts the future of the industry, worth £135m last year, in serious jeopardy. If no agreement is reached, the Scottish quota could be halved, the market will weaken and thousands of jobs will be at risk.

Moreover, the MSC accreditation relied on by environmentally conscious consumers and awarded because of the way British, Norwegian and EU fisheries have sympathetically fished mackerel would be lost, along with consumer confidence. "Not only us, but everyone who has got the MSC certification is going to lose it – at one stroke," said Gatt.

Norway has taken immediate action, closing its ports to trawlers from both countries. But the EU, which has expressed its concern, has yet to decide on action, to the frustration of the fishing industry.

Iceland is a newcomer to serious mackerel fishing. Along with the Faroes, it built an expensive fleet to fish blue whiting, but stocks collapsed.

"So they are sitting there with these new, modern ships," said Ernie Simpson, 63, a retired skipper who owns the Fraserburgh-registered Christina S with his son, Allan. "Better and bigger boats than we have, some of them. And no blue whiting to catch. So now they are turning to mackerel."

He was at the Peterhead blockade because, he says, more than 90% of the Scottish pelagic fleet depends on mackerel. "The EU has sent lovely messages of support. But you can't live on sympathy."

Iceland believes it is justified. The Federation of Icelandic Fishing Vessel Owners said it "has every right to fish for mackerel within the Icelandic jurisdiction" and that "Iceland's mackerel fishery is therefore equally as legitimate as the EU's or Norway's".

The Faroese government has warned Scotland that its excellent relations and bilateral trade agreements are at risk following the failure of Scottish police to stop Tuesday's blockade.

Meanwhile the Scottish government has joined forces with the Norwegians in calling for the EU to apply more pressure on the two nations.

But Stevenson believes the intransigence of Iceland's fishermen will be hard to moderate, buoyed as they still are by the cod wars of the 50s and 70s when Icelandic trawlers cut the nets of British rivals, forcing the Royal Navy to intervene.

"They celebrate the fact they think they won the cod war, to the extent that the Icelandic gunboat that actually opened fire on a British navy vessel is now a celebrated restaurant in Reykjavik harbour. They are harking back to this great victory, thinking they can do it again," he said.

"But they have another think coming. Because it's not just Britain they are up against this time. It's the whole of the EU and their close neighbour in Norway."

Gatt hopes last week's protest will not have to be repeated, but warns Icelandic and Faroese boats to expect more of the same.

"For our guys, it really was rubbing salt in the wound for that boat to come down and say they wanted to land fish in Scotland. Over our dead bodies," he vowed. "They won't be getting the famed warm, Scottish welcome."

Source: Guardian
  • © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010

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