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Iceland Responds to Accusations of Propaganda over Mackerel Dispute

22 November 2012

SCOTLAND, UK - Iceland has responded to accusations made by Scottish fishermen which state that the Icelandic Government undertook a ‘cynical propaganda exercise’ by attempting to drive a wedge in the UK seafood industry in a desperate last ditch effort to justify its gross over-fishing of the north-east Atlantic mackerel stock.

The Embassy of Iceland in London and Iceland’s Ministry of Industries and Innovation held a briefing meeting in Lincolnshire on the 21 November for the local seafood industry and other fishing industry stakeholders in a bid to try and gain support for the massive unilateral increase in its north-east mackerel quota outwith any international agreement, said the Scottish Fishermen's Federation (SFF) news release.

The release stated that for the last four years, a protracted serious of attempts by the EU and Norway to reach a sensible deal on mackerel have been repeatedly rebuffed by Iceland and the Faroes. The widespread anger caused by their unsustainable fishing practices and intransigent negotiating position recently led to the EU agreeing a sanctions package against both Iceland and the Faroes. This has led to the fear amongst fish processors in Grimsby and Hull that they may lose access to Icelandic whitefish supplies, such as cod and haddock.

Ian Gatt, chief executive of the Scottish Pelagic Fishermen’s Association, said the Iceland Government is now trying to take advantage of these concerns by holding the briefing session in Lincolnshire in a bid to create a split in the UK seafood industry.

“This is a cynical ploy where the Icelandic government intends to use spin to try and gain support for its totally indefensible over-fishing of the north-east Atlantic mackerel stock,” he said.

“We are very sympathetic to the concerns of the Humber seafood processing sector and we would be happy to meet with them as it is important that they are made aware of the true background to this dispute, which is threatening a UK fish stock resource of considerable value and for which we and our other international partners in the EU and Norway have been sustainably harvesting for many years.

“We believe the Icelanders will use the briefing session to claim that they are committed to sustainable mackerel fishing. This is a quite ludicrous assertion as their approach from the outset has never been to put the health of stock first for the benefit of all participants in the fishery, but instead hold it to ransom for their own advantage and without any due concern to the potential damage being inflicted upon it.

“The EU and Norwegian negotiating teams have made several fair offers during the protracted negotiation process, but these have been rebuffed each time with Iceland and the Faroese being totally intransigent and showing absolutely no intention of trying to seek a reasonable compromise.

“The truth behind Iceland’s sustainability credentials is that it has increased its mackerel catch since 2005 from 363 tonnes per year to 145,000 tonnes – a 40,000 per cent increase and totally out of line with scientific advice. Iceland says it is seeking a 15 per cent share of the overall north-east Atlantic mackerel catch, but for the last three years it has been taking an allocation of 24 per cent. That is a totally inconsistent position and underlines their sheer irresponsibility when it comes to sensible and responsible fisheries management.

“In addition, the science has been saying that the expansion of the mackerel stock, which has led to some of it for a small period of the year moving into Icelandic and Faroese waters, is down to the sustainable fishing activities and good husbandry of the EU and Norwegian fleets. We recognise that there needs to be a deal reached on this dispute, but it must be a fair and equitable agreement based on the facts rather than spin.”

Iceland Committed to Solving Mackerel Situation

In response, Benedikt Jonsson, Ambassador of Iceland to the United Kingdom, has commented: “We are meeting with the Grimsby seafood industry and area residents to discuss the need for mackerel fishing countries to reach a compromise on fishing quotas. Icelandic fishing imports play an essential role in the Humberside economy, with 300,000,000 pounds of Icelandic seafood generating millions of pounds sterling in trade.

"For several years, Iceland has worked hard to reach an agreement with the Coastal States of Norway, the Faroe Islands and the EU, including Scotland, which will ensure we all catch mackerel at sustainable levels. We have repeatedly offered proposals that sustain the mackerel population and ensure a fair outcome for all countries. Unfortunately, certain countries have responded with attacks on Iceland and threats of sanctions, while simultaneously demanding a vastly oversized portion of the mackerel catch. Their actions are harming the mackerel stock or and fail to support the seafood industries of the Coastal States.

"The facts are clear: Icelandic fishing is generally recognised as sustainable and responsible. And our fishing industry has a large direct impact on the economy of England, as recently recognised by Austin Mitchell MP, who said that a ban on Icelandic fish would be “unacceptable” and that the United Kingdom should not do anything that imperils Icelandic imports. We recognise the importance of Icelandic seafood to England, are eager to negotiate a fair solution, and look forward to other countries joining us at the table to resolve the mackerel fishing issue,” said Mr Jonsson.

In terms of reaching an agreement on the mackerel stocks, Iceland has proposed that all mackerel fishing Coastal States reduce next year’s catch by 15-20 per cent to align with scientific guidance from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES). However, this proposal was rejected.

Dr Sigurgeir Thorgeirsson, Iceland chief negotiator on mackerel fishing, also told TheFishSite that: “Iceland is committed to negotiating a solution to the mackerel fishing... but unfortunately, Iceland’s repeated attempts to reach a fair solution have been rejected, with the EU and Norway claiming 90 per cent of the total advised catch, a vastly oversised level given the changing migration patterns of mackerel.

"Climate change is causing significant shifts in water temperatures that are leading more mackerel to inhabit Icelandic waters. Scientists are concerned that mackerel overpopulation would cause lasting damage to our marine ecosystem, so we must find a careful balance between catching and preserving the stock. As such, Iceland has proposed that all countries lower their 2013 mackerel catch to levels recommended by scientists at the ICES. This will ensure the Coastal States sustain the mackerel population and will protect the economic well-being of these countries fishing industries. Our reasonable proposals have fallen on deaf ears.

"Iceland is a leader in sustainable fishing and has earned praise for its protection of fish stock. Overfishing serves no one, which is why we have demonstrated flexibility and openness throughout negotiations. We hope other parties will join us in pursuing a fair and science-based compromise,” he concluded.

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