North Atlantic Nations Reach Agreement on Mackerel Quota, Dispute Allocation

iceland fishing

Iceland has reached an agreement alongside Norway, the EU, the Faroe Islands, Greenland, and the United Kingdom on the maximum catch for mackerel next year.

The new quota agreement for 2023, which was signed yesterday, December 7, will be set at 782,066 tonnes.

The new limit is 13,000 tonnes less than this year, in accordance with the suggestions made by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES).

See also: Iceland Moves to Reduce Marine Bycatch

So far, the national allocation of the quota has not yet been decided between the signatories, despite numerous meetings these years. Iceland currently demands 16.5% of the quota, or 129,000 tonnes.

Negotiations are set to resume in February of next year, and will need to reach an agreement by the end of March, as the fishing season for most nations will begin in the first half of the year.

It is important for the nations to reach an agreement. If they do not, and they individually allocate their catch according to national demand, it is all but certain that the total catch will far exceed scientific recommendations for sustainable levels of fishing in the North Atlantic.

Bjørnar Skjæran, Norwegian Minister of Marine Fisheries, stated with regard to the recent agreement:

“I am very pleased that we have now finally set a total quota for mackerel. This is something we have worked for for a long time and which means a lot for the fishermen, and for sustainable management of this important fish stock. Despite several rounds of negotiations throughout 2022, there has still not been a complete agreement on the issues of distribution of the stocks and management plan for mackerel. We hope that the remaining questions will be resolved at the beginning of next year.”

The agreement can be read here.




Five Seafood Companies Withdraw From Lawsuit Against Icelandic State

Fishing Harbour

Five seafood companies have decided to withdraw from a joint lawsuit against the Icelandic state due to a dispute over the allocation of mackerel quotas between 2011-2018, RÚV reports. Seven companies had decided to jointly sue the state, demanding over ISK 10 billion ($69.6 million/€63.9 million) in compensation. A statement from the five companies says the decision was made due to the impact COVID-19 will have on the Icelandic treasury.

Eskja, Gjörgur, Ísfélag Vestmannaeyja, Loðnuvinnslan, and Skinney-Þinganes are the five companies that have dropped out of the joint lawsuit. A statement from Supreme Court Attorney Sigurbjörn Magnússon on behalf of the five companies says the COVID-19 pandemic will have a profound effect on Iceland’s treasury and the entire Icelandic community.

“Widespread solidarity and mettle have characterised the community in the past weeks and months. Now everyone needs to work together,” the statement reads. “For this reason, the five undersigned fishing companies have decided to waive their claims against the Icelandic state.”

The seven companies (the final two being Vinnslustöðin and Huginn ehf.) filed the lawsuit last year, claiming that the state’s mackerel quota distribution between 2011-2018 was based on incorrect information and led to losses for the companies. Two Supreme Court rulings in 2018 recognised the state’s liability for damages Ísfélag Vestmannaeyja and Huginn ehf. believed to have incurred due to how the quota was distributed between 2011-2014.

Minister of Finance Bjarni Benediktsson stated earlier this week that he was optimistic the state would win the case, but in the unlikely situation that it did not, the damages would not be paid using tax money, rather would be financed via the fishing industry itself.

EU to Threaten Sanctions Against Iceland and Greenland Over Mackerel Dispute

The Chair of the European Parliament’s Fisheries Committee Chris Davies has stated that the EU might take action against Iceland and Greenland if the countries won’t back down from increasing their mackerel catch unilaterally. According to Davies, the committee will convene early next month to discuss sanctions and Icelandic officials will be invited to the meeting. Icelandic fisheries officials claim the threats are a surprising waste of energy that could be spent negotiating and that excluding Russia from the sanctions is cowardly.

Read more about: Contentious Mackerel Quota Negotiations

Iceland intends to increase its share of mackerel from 108,000 tonnes to 140,000 tonnes, while Greenland intends to increase its quota by 18 %, to just over 70,000 tonnes. Davies has called these plans “despicable”. Davies told I News, “ “I think it’s despicable. This isn’t the way partnerships work. The whole point is that stocks are shared fairly.”

He went on to say: “I will meet the European Commission on 4 September to discuss taking action. We don’t want a repeat of the cod wars. We want to understand how to work together. But we will press ahead with sanctions to protect our interests if need be. It’s on the agenda.”

Unfair that Iceland should shoulder all the responsibility  

The Ministry of Fisheries replied to RÚV earlier this month that Iceland was being kept from the mackerel quota negotiations as the EU, Norway and the Faroe Islands were making all the decisions on the future of the mackerel stock. Repeated attempts to reconcile and Iceland’s willingness to negotiate hadn’t been successful. Furthermore, the ministry stated that Iceland’s mackerel fishing was both justified and responsible. “Fishing more than is advised by scientists is a serious matter but the responsibility can’t be shouldered entirely by Iceland. It’s an unfair demand that one state unilaterally decreases fishing.”

Excluding Russia from sanctions shows lack of courage

Kristján Freyr Helgason, chairman of the Icelandic delegation to the Fisheries Committee, pointed out in an interview with RÚV that it’s surprising that Russia is to be exempt from these intended sanctions. In addition, it’s strange to accuse Iceland of irresponsible fishing when the EU and the two states caught twice the advised amount of mackerel.

Kristján claims that the EU, Norway and the Faroe Islands have kept Iceland from negotiations on mackerel quotas for five years and only allotted a small share of the quota to the countries outside their agreement.

“They’ve taken a very hard stance. They renewed the agreement last year without changes and without accepting new parties to the negotiations. They keep leaving 15.6%, which, according to their decision, amounts to 102,000 tonnes this year. That’s nowhere near enough for the three parties that are left, the coastal states of Iceland and Greenland and the fishing nation of Russia. It’s furthermore surprising that they only intend to introduce sanctions against Iceland and Greenland, as Russia announced July 18 that they would increase their quota by 16500 tonnes. It doesn’t show a lot of courage to threaten Iceland and Greenland but leave Russia out of it.” Kristján stated.

Threats are a waste of energy

Accusing Iceland of irresponsible fishing is a long shot, according to Kristján Þór Júlíusson, Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture. Threatening Iceland with sanctions over mackerel fishing is an anachronism and that energy would be put to better use by negotiating. Iceland won’t be left out while other nations fish from the mackerel stock they share.

In response to Davies’ threat, Kristján stated, “I’ve invited the good MP to visit Iceland and go over our arguments and get to know our side of the issue. I haven’t received any response to my invitation, but I assume it will be accepted, as in my mind, it’s an anachronism to spend time arguing and making threats when you can focus that energy into negotiations.”

He went on to say, “It’s interesting that an EU spokesperson makes these accusations, as, unlike Iceland,  they aren’t exactly known for responsible fisheries management.”

One man’s opinion

The threat of sanctions is surprising to the director of Fisheries Iceland Jens Garðar Helgason as Iceland hasn’t been invited to negotiate the quotas along with the EU, Norway and the Faroe Islands. “I’m certain this would affect Icelandic fisheries noticeably. Even if [Davies] is making these suggestions, it still has to go through the whole process of the EU. So, at a glance, it looks to me like one man’s opinion and he’s going to try to make this happen. But I’m certain that the party nations and the EU will agree on how to split the quota and this might nudge people to get down to the negotiating table. I hope it will.” Says Jens.



Mackerel War On the Cards As Iceland Increases Quota?

The fishing of mackerel in the North Atlantic is a contested international issue as experts believe the fish is at danger of overfishing. Chris Davies, head of the European Parliament’s Fisheries Committee, stated that a “mackerel war” could threaten the future of Scottish fishermen after Icelandic authorities increased the mackerel quota in the country. Iceland is kept away from negotiations as Icelandic authorities’ attempts to reach an agreement have been unsuccessful, according to Icelandic authorities. The decision to increase the mackerel quote has raised attention in the Shetland Islands, where local news outlets Shetland Times and Shetland News have covered the issue. Icelandic authorities have been accused of putting the valuable mackerel stock at risk in order to solve their financial problems in the short term.

Mackerel fishing has been hotly contested in the last near-decade or so, as Norway and the European Union have been unhappy with Iceland’s magnitude of mackerel fishing. Mackerel started appearing within Iceland’s territorial waters in large numbers in recent years, which is largely attributed to the warming of the seas in connection with global warming. The mackerel fishing quota in Icelandic fishing territory was increased from 108,000 tons to 140,000 tons this past June, in a decision by Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture Kristján Þór Júlíusson. The decision was a unilateral one by the Icelandic government as Iceland has not been admitted to the negotiations regarding the division of the mackerel quota in the North-Atlantic. The increase from 108,000 to 140,000 tons takes heed of the total catch of mackerel fishing nations in the North Atlantic rather than the total quota attributed to the nations. All of the mackerel fishing nations, including Norway and European Union nations which hunt in the North-Atlantic, have exceeded their share of the quota in recent years.

Decision irks Shetlanders
The Shetland Islands is a Scottish archipelago which relies heavily on the fishing industry. The aforementioned Davies met with representatives from the Shetland Fishermen’s Associations last week and spoke after the meeting. “Partnership is essential if shared fish stocks are to be managed sustainably. Iceland’s actions are greedy and irresponsible. They are not those of a friendly nation, let alone of a country that is part of the European economic area. I welcome the fact that, despite all the talk of Brexit, the European Commission is acting strongly in defence of Scottish fishermen, and I will ensure that this issue is debated as soon as the European Parliament meets again.”

Beatrice Wishart, the Shetland’s Liberal Democrat candidate for the Scottish Parliament, stressed the importance of mackerel fishing for Shetlanders. “It was good to have the chair of the European Parliament’s fisheries committee in Shetland to hear about the relationship with Iceland over mackerel stocks. His determination that the Commission follows through on their strong rhetoric when it comes to Iceland is exactly the reassurances our fishing community needs. This is enormously important to Shetland. We already know all too well the consequences of a deal done badly, not least because we have had to live with consequences of the last one.”

Unfair demand?
Icelandic news outlet RÚV reached out to the Ministry of Industries and Innovation for comments regarding Davies’ statement. The ministry’s press officer stated that Icelandic authorities and the European Union had been in contact regarding mackerel fishing, most recently in early August. “Iceland has been kept from the negotiation table. Repeated settlement proceedings and Icelanders’ willingness to reach an agreement have been unsuccessful,” part of the statement read. The way the ministry sees it, Iceland’s share of the mackerel quota is both legitimate and responsible. “Hunting beyond scientific advice is a serious issue, but it is not right to lay the burden solely on Iceland’s shoulders. It is an unfair demand for one state to unilaterally decrease fishing,”

Mackerel in the North-Atlantic
In 2011, Norway and the European Union reached a conclusion about mackerel quota in the North Atlantic, placing the figure at 646,000 tons to be divided between fishing nations in the area. At the time, it was decided that Iceland should receive 4% of the total quota, numbering 26,000 tons. However, Icelandic authorities had already released a permit for the fishing of a total of 147,000 tons, which was 22.75% of the total North Atlantic quota rather than the aforementioned 4%. In the past, mackerel only wandered into Iceland’s territorial waters from time to time. In the 90s, mackerel started appearing more regularly before whole swathes started appearing after 2005. In 2010, it is believed that over a 1,000,000 tons of mackerel entered Iceland’s territorial waters. Icelandic authorities first released an official mackerel quota in 2006, to the tune of 4,200 tons. Iceland’s mackerel fishing took a jump year to year, from 36,000 tons in 2007 to 112,000 tons in 2008. Since then, Icelanders have fished mackerel in similar numbers, reaching a high point of 170,000 tons in 2014. As Iceland increased its mackerel quota from year to year, the European Union placed sanctions on its fishing industry as it barred Icelandic vessels from landing mackerel catch in EU ports.

Mackerel quota of Norway, 2019: 164,000 tons
Mackerel fishing in Scotland, 2018: 153,000 tons

No conclusive agreement has been reached regarding mackerel fishing, as mackerel fishing nations continue to fish at a rate higher than suggested by The International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES). ICES concluded in September 2018 that mackerel was being overfished. Therefore, the ICES suggested that mackerel quota should not exceed 318,000 tons for 2019, for all mackerel fishing nations. This number was 42% lower than the 2018 quota, which was 550,948 tons. The total suggested quota had previously stood at 857,000 tons in 2017. However, all of the mackerel fishing nations unilaterally set their own quotas in 2018, totalling more than 1,000,000 tons of mackerel in total.

The ICES later revised the number for 2019, and the set total mackerel quota at 770,000 tons, more than double the original amount they suggested. This was, however, a 20% reduction from 2018. The revised number is due to miscalculated projections, and the mackerel stock in the North Atlantic has a better standing than originally thought. However, an Icelandic specialist at the Marine Research Institute has warned of the future if mackerel fishing in the North Atlantic continues at a similar rate. “We have been warning authorities about the overfishing which has taken place in the last decade or so. We’ve been lucky with replenishment rates. It is clear, however, that the stocks are diminishing. By these actions, not only those of Icelanders but also other fishing nations, where we are overfishing exceeding recommendations, the stock will diminish and fishing will have to be reduced significantly,” said Þorsteinn Sigurðsson, director of the pelagic ecosystem department of the Icelandic Marine Research Institute.

What next?
Right now, it appears mackerel fishing nations will continue to decide their mackerel quota unilaterally. Meanwhile, specialists warn of the dangers of overfishing. It appears that mackerel grounds are shifting due to the warming of the ocean, and the number of mackerel within Iceland’s territorial waters has increased significantly in recent years. The right to fish a migratory species such as the mackerel will always be hotly contested. It is one of the most valuable quota species landed in the EU economic zone, as the total value of mackerel fishing in the North Atlantic is estimated at one billion €. Therefore, it’s not likely that any party will give in anytime soon. It’s clear a bi-lateral mackerel agreement needs to be agreed to as soon as possible, in order to protect the valuable stock. The question remains: Who does the mackerel belong to?