The SPFA promotes the interests of Scottish fisherman generally and 25 individual vessels that fish mackerel. It had been due to attend the three-day summit organised by the Nordic Council, that began this Tuesday, in Torshavn, the Faroe Islands.
However, association chairman Ian Gatt told FoodManufacture.co.uk that attendance would have sent out the wrong signals: “We took the decision with European colleagues to boycott the meeting, because if we went to the Faroes we risked being seen to legitimate their action."
Gatt added that neither the EU Commission nor politicians from member states angered by Icelandic and Faroese quotas, such as the UK and Norway, chose to attend the meeting, meaning that “no major stakeholders will be present at discussions.”
Fighting our corner
Asked if another reason why the SPFA chose not to attend was because of entrenched views on both sides, Gatt said:“Iceland is taking quite a bullish line, but the EU Parliament has has been very supportive and is fighting our corner.
“We had a productive meeting with the Commission last week, and were led to believe that measures would be taken by the end of this month.
“Another notable development is that mackerel is on the agenda for a forthcoming meeting of the EU's Agriculture and Fisheries Council, which is extremely rare.
“Word this week has it that Iceland went over 100,000t and the Faroes around 50,000t, which only reiterates the fact that they’re fishing at levels well above international agreements.
Last week a Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) spokesman confirmed that Faroese fishermen had submitted an application for accredited status for their northeast Atlantic mackerel fishery.
Scottish mackerel fishermen believe that one of the ironies of the current stand-off is that the Faroese themselves applied for MSC accreditation, despite setting quotas well above levels that the council itself considers reasonable.
Gatt said:“As we understand it, Marine Scotland [the Scottish ministry responsible for fisheries issues] objected and the application has been held up. This is due to the fact that the Faroese failed themselves in terms of sustainability credits – only awarding themselves a score of 79, when the pass mark is 80.”
“Now they’re simply resubmitting the same application, but with the score revised upwards, which makes a mockery of the process.”
The recent unilateral decision by Iceland and the Faroe Islands to set large quotas of 130,000t and 85,000t respectively for 2010 has generated a major diplomatic row, with mackerel landings by Scottish vessels worth £135m in 2009.
Angry Scottish fisherman in Peterhead prevented two Faroese vessels from landing mackerel catches in August, actions that were afterwards praised by EU fisheries commissioner Maria Damanaki.
Contacted by FoodManufacture.co.uk, neither the Icelandic nor Faroese fishing ministries were willing to comment on the ongoing dispute.