Current EU-Norway Fish Talks - More Important Than Ever


This week, up in Bergen, negotiators from the EU and from the Kingdom of Norway are trying to thrash out a fisheries deal.  The have been at it since Monday, and by close of play tomorrow they will still not have reached agreement. Indeed sources tell me that the talks have been ‘very difficult’, bogged down over how to accommodate the Faroe Islands, (more on that shortly). A second round of talks starting 1st December in Brussels, has already been scheduled.

The EU-Norway talks often pass unnoticed by the media, with all eyes on the December EU Fisheries Council, yet in many ways the talks are more important.  The EU and Norway ‘share’ the North Sea, still one of the richest fishing grounds in the world, and so together determine the ‘Total Allowable Catch’ (TAC), i.e. the quantity of fish which can be removed from the sea whilst still leaving behind a sustainable stock.  Once the TACs are fixed, the national quotas are allocated by fixed formula.  The EU Norway talks therefore set the North Sea quotas of cod, haddock, whiting, mackerel.

By contrast the December Fisheries Council only sets TACs for stocks fished exclusively within EU waters; the west coast of Scotland fisheries would fit into this category.

The TACs and quotas will be the beating heart of the deal, and I intend to write more about them tomorrow, once I have winkled out some more intel.  

However, the parties to the EU-Norway talks must also address another pressing matter, namely the titanic fishing of mackerel by the Faroese and Icelanders. You may recall that in 2010 Iceland and the Faroe Islands unilaterally increased their mackerel quotas massively. Iceland increased their quota from 2000 tons in the mid-2000s to 130,000 tons in 2010, and the Faroe Islands increased their quota from 25,000 tons to 150,000 tons. As a result of this action, the mackerel fishery lost its Marine Stewardship Accreditation for sustainability.

In March 2014, the EU, Norway and Faroe agreed to a 5 year deal which saw the Faroes receive an increase of 12.5% of quota in mackerel. Not a pretty deal, since it basically rewarded over-fishing, but a deal nonetheless.  A deal with Iceland still seems a long way off.

The deal was founded on the premise that Faroes had an abundance of mackerel in their waters (as a result of shifts in fish migration) and therefore should receive more quota entitlement to fish in their own waters. 

However, Shetland fishermen are noting that the Faroes are drafting ever further into Scottish waters in pursuit of mackerel, begging the question, if there is indeed such an abundance of mackerel in Faroese waters why do they need to be anywhere near Shetland?  Understandably Shetland fishermen, who received a reduction in their quota to reward the Faroese, are rightly frustrated about a second dip into one of the stocks upon which they depend. So Shetland, understandably, wants an end to the deal. 

However, the deal with Faroe resulted in a re-opening of Faroese waters to Scottish whitefish vessels - catching cod and haddock, which had been excluded during the earlier four-year stand-off.  For the Scottish white fish fleet, the deal is essential.

A fine kettle of fish indeed.