Iceland lowers mackerel quota to appease EU

Iceland fishing.JPG

Iceland has lowered its mackerel quota in a move that could ease the risk of the European Union barring Icelandic fishermen from its ports.

Iceland's industry ministry said the island would fish 15% less mackerel this year than in 2012, taking the catch to 123,182 tonnes, to help assure sustainability of the stock.

"We are willing to further reduce our catch if other coastal states agree to do so as well," Industry Minster Steingrimur Sigfusson said in a statement posted on the ministry's website on Saturday. "I hope the coastal states will return to the negotiating table with us to discuss concrete proposals."

Iceland in 2011 sharply boosted its annual mackerel quota to 146,000 tonnes, compared with just 2,000 tonnes two years earlier. It has said the increased quotas were justified by an explosion in mackerel stocks in its waters, after the fish began migrating further northwards as a result of warming seas.

In a dispute that has drawn comparisons to the "cod wars" of the 1950s and 1970s, the EU in September passed a law that allows it to limit or ban imports of fish from countries "engaged in unsustainable practices in the management of fish resources they share with the EU".

The EU, Norway, Iceland and the Faroe Islands – the coastal states – jointly manage the northeast Atlantic mackerel fishery.

The row has risked undermining Iceland's application to join the EU, made after its bank system and economy collapsed in 2008. In January Iceland all but shelved the accession talks amid widespread EU scepticism among the 320,000 Icelanders, ahead of a parliamentary vote in April.

The ministry said Iceland's share of the mackerel catch by the coastal states and Russia was about 16% in 2012.

The following statement was made by Oliver Drewes, spokesperson for Commissioner Maria Damanaki, EU Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries:

"The Commission regrets Iceland's announcement of a unilateral fishing quota for mackerel. We regret that Iceland has decided its own quota unilaterally and not in consultation with its partners, for yet another year."

"The Commission remains committed to finding a multilateral solution with all coastal partners and appeals to Iceland to return to the negotiating table with an offer that is sustainable and constructive," the statement said.

Iceland's economy relies heavily on the fishing industry, which provides 40% of export earnings and accounts for 8% of its workforce.

Home to just 320,000 people but a major power in Atlantic fishing, Iceland began EU membership talks in June in the hope of greater stability and financial security after the collapse of its banking system in 2008.

Iceland says more than a million tonnes of mackerel – a quarter of the stock – migrated into its economic zone during the five-month summer feeding season.

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