Debate on Northeast Atlantic Mackerel Fishery

Struan delivered the following speech at the Strasbourg Plenary Session on Thursday 13 March 2014.

The news which arrived late last night of a breakthrough in the long-running mackerel war saga is a welcome relief for Europe's pelagic sector and in particular, for Scotland's mackerel fleet. 

The tri-lateral agreement reached between the EU, Norway and the Faroes provides the Faroes with 12.6% of the total allowable catch for the next 5 years, which, in my opinion, was overly generous. Although Iceland was not a party to this agreement, a further 15.6% of TAC has been set aside for Iceland and Russia in the hope that they may join later. Iceland triggered the mackerel war with their illegal and piratical behaviour and it is outrageous that they have walked away from this agreement. The European Parliament has given Commissioner Damanaki the tools to take tough sanctions against Iceland if they don't now come to the table and accept the generous 15.6% offer that is available for them.

Sadly, the bad behaviour of Iceland in the past 4 years has now triggered a similar reaction from Greenland which has now set itself a massive unilateral target of 100,000 tonnes of mackerel. Luckily the scientists tell us that despite the Olympic fishery that has taken place over the past 4 years there has nevertheless been a big increase in the spawning stock biomass of Northeast Atlantic mackerel and they estimate the proposed TAC for this year will be 1.2 million tonnes, in other words more than double what it was a few years ago when the mackerel war started.

This of course represents good news for Scotland's mackerel fishery where we will be able to land a significantly increased catch. My great concern, however, is what happens when the scientific advice alters and we end up back to the 500,000 tonnes annual TAC that we saw 4 years ago. Imagine then the Faroes taking their 12.6% share (63,000 tonnes), while Iceland, Russia and Greenland may still be taking an illegal 250,000 tonnes and there would only be 187,000 tonnes left for the whole of the EU and Norway. That would spell disaster for our pelagic fleet.

Nevertheless, in the meantime we have to accept that the breakthrough in these talks is welcome and I congratulate the European Commission and the sector for their perseverance and patience, often against a background of extreme provocation from Iceland and the Faroes and now also from Greenland. This agreement paves the way for a resumption of access to Faroese waters for Scottish fishermen and vice versa. It also paves the way for an EU-Norway whitefish agreement which will kick-start renewed access to each country's waters.