December Fisheries Council - What impact will the Faroe Islands deal have?


If you are anything like a regular visitor to this website, you will have noted that I am currently in Lima, Peru, attending the UN’s latest conference on climate change. Despite being many, many miles from Scotland, I have been keeping abreast of the latest fishing developments from back home.

This time of year is particularly busy for the fishing industry. The end of year quota negotiations are now upon us and, although it is several years since I worked for the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, I can well remember how vital this period is for fishermen preparing for the new year.

The first stage in the negotiations – the EU/Norway talks – is over.  The outcome was broadly positive, with the key stocks – haddock, cod and whiting – experiencing uplift in catch quota. Mackerel catches will slip 15%. On a positive note the agreement was secured quickly, in marked contrast to previous years.

Still lacking a serious solution is the issue created by the titanic mackerel fisheries of Faros and Iceland. In 2010 the Faros unilaterally increased their mackerel quota from 25,000 to 150,000 tonnes. Iceland too increased its mackerel catches by 6,400%. As a result of these actions, the mackerel fishery lost its Marine Stewardship Council sustainability accreditation.

This year the EU, Norway and Faroe Islands reached agreement on an increase in the Faroese share of the total mackerel catch from 4.6% to 12.5%. The justification for the arrangement was the contention that with a change in migratory patterns, mackerel was abundant in the Faroese waters.

Scottish fishermen expressed their concern early that the mackerel in Scottish waters are of a higher quality than the fish around Faroe. They warned that Faroese boats would prefer to fish for Scottish mackerel than fish in their own waters. And so it came to pass. In recent weeks Shetland fishermen have witnessed Faroese vessels drifting further and further into their waters in pursuit of mackerel. Last month a Faroese vessel was detained for encroaching on the 12-mile inshore limit.

Shetland skippers – who saw their own mackerel quota reduced to appease Faroese boats in March – are rightly furious. They want the Faroese arrangement to end and end quickly.

Adding to the frustration, the Faroese Government has introduced tax measures to deter landings into Scotland, so Faroese vessels now land Scottish mackerel into Faroe. Affording Faroese fishermen free access to Scottish waters while allowing the boats to land their catch back home means that Scottish processors are at a competitive disadvantage.  The situation is exacerbated by the Russian trade embargo which bans the import of EU mackerel into Russia. With Faroe outside the EU and so outside the ban, it means that Scottish processors can’t export Scottish mackerel to Russia, but Faroese processors can.

This week the EU concluded talks with Faroe on the mackerel question. Not good news.   The situation suffered by pelagic fishermen and processors will continue unabated. Faroese fishermen will still be entitled to catch 30% of their quota in Scottish waters.  Something has got to give. I will be seeking an early meeting with EU Fisheries Commissioner; Karmenu Vella to establish what can be done to ensure that Scottish fishermen get a fair deal.