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Mackerel catches must be slashed say scientists


Mackerel catches must be drastically reduced to maintain the stocks at sustainable levels, scientists have warned.

In new advice the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES) has calculated that catches should be no higher than 542,000 tonnes, meaning cuts of up to 47 per cent.

The figure is 15 per cent lower than they recommended last year and is far below the expected catch in 2012 of at least 930,000 tonnes. In 2011 939,000 tonnes were landed.

Scientists issued their warning as the “mackerel wars” between the European Union and Norway on one side, and the Faroe Islands and Iceland on the other continue to damage stock levels.

Neither side has been able to reach agreement on how much each should catch, so they have both set their own quotas irrespective of what the other does.

EU states, Norway, Sweden and Russia expect to more than 600,000 tonnes this year while Iceland and the Faroes have set themselves a combined quota of almost 300,000 tonnes. The wrangling is getting further complicated by Greenland’s decision that it wants a share too and took more than 5,000 tonnes in 2011.

ICES said in its latest advice: “In recent years significant catches have also been taken in Icelandic and Faroese waters, areas where almost no catches were reported prior to 2008.

“In 2011, catches in this area constituted approximately 32 per cent of the total reported landings. In 2011 Greenland has reported catches for the first time.”

They added: “Catches since 2008 have been considerably in excess of ICES advice, which was based on the management plan. The absence of comprehensive international agreements on the exploitation of the stock (between all nations involved in the fishery) remains a critical concern, and prevents control of the total exploitation rate.

Mackerel is the UK’s most valuable catch at £205 million and the unilateral quotas declared by Iceland and the Faroes have infuriated fishermen, especially those in Scotland who stand to lose the most if the fishery collapses due to overfishing.

EU ministers have given themselves powers to impose trade sanctions on Iceland and the Faroes but they are likely to be delayed until further talks aimed at reaching a deal over quotas are held.

Richard Lochhead, the Scottish fisheries minister, is anxious for sanctions to be imposed quickly and said: “For four years in a row now we have seen Iceland and the Faroes plundering the mackerel stock, setting their own vastly inflated quotas outwith an international agreement – and as a result putting the future of our own fleet at risk.

“While Europe has finally brought forward sanction provisions, the process has taken far too long and this worrying scientific advice shows that much damage to the mackerel stock has already been done. Therefore it is infuriating and deeply frustrating that Scottish fishermen now face the prospect of reduced quotas.

“Talks resume next month for a new mackerel deal and I hope the Faroes and Iceland finally decide to enter in to reasonable negotiations. They must recognise that if they continue to ignore their responsibilities to sustainably manage the stock, it will ultimately lead to disaster for all those who rely on this valuable fishery.

“Scotland’s priority is to have all parties signed up to a new deal that will safeguard the future sustainability of the mackerel stock. Hopefully the prospect of sanctions will help concentrate Icelandic and Faroese minds.”


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