We need co-operation and collaboration to tackle the current and growing fishing rights imbalance between EU and non-EU members. It is the IFPO’s firm believe that EU coastal states are losing out to non-EU members because the European Commission’s scientifically informed approach to quotas is subject to abuse by rogue Nordic players. The result of this approach is that the EU is losing its share of mackerel and blue whiting.
We have raised this matter before and aired our concerns again in Brussels last week, where the EU Fisheries Council met. This is not just a matter of inequity, this practice poses a serious threat to the sustainability of European fish stocks. There is an onus on these non-EU members to act responsibly and for the EU to use its powers to curb the plundering of these stocks.
There’s been a lack of any real progress in agreeing Coastal States (CS) quota sharing schemes for mackerel and blue whiting in recent years. So, certain Coastal States who are non-EU members, profit from this vacuum by setting grossly exaggerated unilateral quotas for these stocks. This is going to impact the sustainability of the stock and we potentially face a second year of quota reductions for mackerel.
Fishing Rights Imbalance in Mackerel and Blue Whiting
The EU has been the main loser in the last ten years in the CS framework. Our relative share of the mackerel and blue whiting fisheries has been hugely reduced by the inflated quotas adopted by Norway, Faroe Islands, and Iceland over the last 5 to 10 years.
Even a cursory look at the unilateral mackerel quotas fixed in recent years shows Norway unilaterally and irresponsibly increasing its share from 18.8% to 24.55% in the space of a few years. Equally Faroe Islands goes from 10.5% to 13.7% so the EU loses again with a reduced relative share.
The EU share of blue whiting quotes has also decreased. It’s gone from 34.5% to 27.5% in the same fishery in the space of a few years. Faroe Islands, with a population of 50,000 now has a a bigger share in the blue whiting fishery than the EU.
In a recent letter to the Norwegian Ministry, the Fisheries Commissioner, Virginijus Sinkevicius said the EU regretted “the unilateral increase in the Norwegian quota and remains deeply concerned about the negative impact this has on the important stock that we share and the economic consequences for our fishing fleet.”
The Commissioner went on to say that this “undermines the efforts of other coastal states to establish stable mackerel quotas in the absence of an agreement and contravenes the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.”
We support the Commissioners strong stance. We have highlighted this inequity ourselves, and welcome the Commissioner Sinkevicius’ intervention. However, we urge that it is followed up with decisive action. In fact, we call on the Commission to withhold reciprocal access arrangements for blue whiting with Norway and take all necessary steps to address this overfishing.
EU Must Take Harder Line
We accept that a blue whiting quota for Norway will figure in the quota exchanges for the 2024 EU/Norway bilateral arrangements. In fact, access to Irelands EEA waters is essential for Norway to be able to catch their profitable blue whiting fisheries. Without access to our waters, they have a problem to catch their enormous quota. But the EU needs to exploit this reality to the maximum and negotiate tangible compensation for Ireland and other EU members.
Tangible and adequate compensation could take many forms. For instance, the EU could seek transfer of blue whiting or mackerel quota from Norway to the EU. There is a precedent for this in the recent UK-Norway deal in June 2023. In this bilateral agreement, 24,000 tonnes of Norway’s inflated mackerel quota was transferred to the UK in exchange for Norwegian access to 160,000 tonnes of mackerel in the UK zone.
The bottom line is that we need to re-establish our share of the mackerel and blue whiting fisheries at legitimate historical levels. But time is not on our side as the fishing sector is suffering. We have asked the Marine Minister to highlight the value of our unique marine resources and secure the support of other EU states to deliver a fairer deal.
We are satisfied that the Minister has taken on board our concerns, and this was reflected in his engagement at EU Fisheries Council level last week. It’s the first step in a very long process and much still needs to be done. Government and industry representatives need to collaborate to level the playing field for EU members.
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