Joint responsibility in mackerel fisheries
By Steingrímur J. Sigfússon (*) | Monday 16 January 2012
At the end of this month, a final attempt will be made to reach an agreement on the management of mackerel fisheries in the North-East Atlantic for this year at a meeting between the four coastal states - Iceland, the EU, Norway and the Faroe Islands - in Bergen, Norway. The Icelandic authorities place great emphasis on the parties reaching an agreement in order to ensure sustainable mackerel fisheries and prevent further overfishing from the stock for which they are jointly responsible.
There is no disagreement among the coastal states that an agreement should be based on the advice of the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) on the total allowable catch of mackerel. However, they disagree on how to allocate the quotas between themselves. Unfortunately, the joint proposal of the EU and Norway in this regard, which was submitted at the last meeting in Clonakilty, Ireland, was totally unrealistic and represented a step backwards from previous meetings that had been quite constructive. Obviously, in order to reach a fair solution, the legitimate interests of all the coastal states must be taken into account. This implies, inter alia, recognition of the changed migration pattern of the mackerel stock in the North-East Atlantic. As is commonly known, the stock has in recent years migrated increasingly towards the North-West and into the Icelandic exclusive economic zone.
Joint scientific research by Iceland, Norway and the Faroe Islands has shed light on the changed migration pattern of the mackerel stock. According to the conclusions of the surveys in 2010, around 1.1 million tonnes of mackerel, which corresponds to 23% of the stock, migrated into the Icelandic zone during the feeding season from May to September that year. The results of the surveys in 2011 were almost the same in this respect, although the migration towards the West was even stronger. The Marine Research Institute of Iceland has estimated that mackerel grows by around 60% within the Icelandic zone during the summer months and the migration of the mackerel stock clearly constitutes a major interference with the Icelandic marine ecosystem, such as herring, blue whiting and other important fish stocks. There are also indications, which must be substantiated with further research, that this big invasion of mackerel in the marine ecosystem around Iceland negatively affects the stock of small sandeel and thus plays its part in the rapid decline of seabird stocks around the island. The annual weight increase of mackerel within the Icelandic zone amounts, accordingly, to 660,000 tonnes, which constitutes more than four times the total catch of Icelandic vessels from the stock last year. Obviously, all the parties benefit from the feeding of mackerel within the Icelandic zone and these scientific findings strengthen Iceland´s position in the negotiations. It is also clear that Iceland cannot be subjected to reduced fishing possibilities from other important fish stocks that have suffered from the mackerel migration without having a fair share in the mackerel fisheries.
In addition, there are now clear signs of mackerel being located within the Icelandic zone all year round. The Marine Research Institute has in the last two years found mackerel fry in growing quantities around the island and new year classes of mackerel are now spawning off the coast of Iceland.
The Icelandic authorities have emphasised that mackerel caught by Icelandic vessels should as far as possible be processed for human consumption in order to maximise the value of the catches. The fishing operators have invested heavily in gear and equipment for this purpose and have been very successful. More than 90% of mackerel caught within the Icelandic zone last year was processed for human consumption, compared to 60% in 2010. Clearly this increased production and economic value have played a part in Iceland´s reconstruction after the serious economic crisis, which hit the country in 2008.
CLEAR WILL TO NEGOTIATE
The coastal states carry a joint responsibility for preventing further overfishing from the mackerel stock and ensuring sustainable fishery. One cannot point the finger at one or two of the parties in this regard; they must all contribute to reaching an agreement. I want to assure everyone that the Icelandic authorities have the will to find a fair solution to this important issue in cooperation with the other coastal states and I am convinced that all the parties will benefit more in the long term with an agreement than without one.
(*) Steingrímur J. Sigfússon is minister of fisheries and agriculture of Iceland