Tory MEP Struan Stevenson, who is senior vice-president of the EU Parliament's Fisheries Committee, has been a vocal critic of unilateral Icelandic and Faroese decisions to award themselves large 2010 mackerel quotas.
He was seen by many UK fishermen as their unofficial representative at a three-day summit that began last Tuesday to discuss the dispute. Meanwhile, it emerged today that new talks are planned between Icelandic authorities and the European Union next week.
Before the Faroese summit, organised by the Nordic Council, Stevenson had been urging blockades of supposed rogue fishing vessels from Iceland and the Faroe Islands. He even proposed that the EU seal its borders to mackerel imports from the two countries.
Stevenson had also called for the EU Commission (EC) to put more pressure on Iceland given current union accession talks.
But in the summit’s aftermath he revealed in a statement sent to FoodManufacture.co.uk that progress had been made. “The meetings were very constructive, and provided the opportunity to raise our grave concerns over mackerel quotas with the Faroese ministers.
“I reiterated that a solution must be found to the current impasse or all of us: the EU, Norway, Iceland and the Faroe Islands will suffer in the long term if mackerel stock continues to be overfished at current levels.
“The [Faroese] ministers stressed their severe disappointment at the EU’s decision to slam the door on negotiations over mackerel quotas. And whilst such action undoubtedly hampers efforts to continue dialogue, two wrongs do not make a right. The Faroese should not have used this as an excuse to implement their own mackerel quotas.
“Their claims that Norway and EU manipulated the mackerel quotas require further investigation, but once again, the Faroese should not have used this alleged misconduct as an excuse to recklessly flout the rules themselves.
The Scottish Pelagic Fisherman’s Association (SPFA) – which promotes the interests of Scottish fishermen generally and 25 vessels that fish mackerel – dramatically pulled out of the summit late last week because it feared legitimising overfishing by Iceland and the Faroe Islands.
Iceland ready to talk
But Stevenson himself believed the outcomes had been positive: “I hope that these talks have paved the way for further honest and transparent discussions on mackerel quotas. I have suggested that the [Faroese] ministers come and talk to the European Parliament’s Fisheries Committee in the near future to explain their side of the story.
“Ongoing dialogue is essential if this matter is to be resolved and I hope today was the first step to reaching a solution.”
As we went to press, a spokeswoman for the Law of the Sea Institute of Iceland said that a negotiating team led by its director Tomas Heider was due to head an Icelandic delegation meeting EU representatives in Reykyavik next Tuesday, September 21.
Both sides intend to hold preliminary discussions ahead of further talks between all stakeholders in London during mid-October.
An EC spokeswoman confirmed the talks would take place, adding: "We are [also] in a constructive dialogue with the Faroes and Norwegian authorities in order to find sustainable solutions on this issue to which all parties are committed.
"The EC has asked the Belgian Presidency to schedule this issue on the Fisheries Council of September 27 in order to explore further solutions."
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.