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Iceland Lowers its 2013 Mackerel Quota by 15 per cent

04 February 2013

ICELAND - The Icelandic Ministry of Industries and Innovation has announced the country’s 2013 fishing quota for mackerel, lowering the catch to 123,182 tons, a 15 per cent reduction from 2012, in alignment with scientific recommendations from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES).

The 2013 quota is a reduction from Iceland’s 2012 quota of 145,227 tons, as part of Iceland’s commitment to ensure the long-term sustainability of the mackerel stock. It is the second year in a row that Iceland has lowered its catch quota, which was 154,825 tons in 2011.

“Iceland is taking fewer mackerel from the sea in 2013. The 15 per cent reduction in the weight of our catch aligns with the recommendations from international scientific experts,” said Steingrímur J. Sigfússon, the Minister of Industries and Innovation. “Our 2013 mackerel quota continues our efforts to help preserve the mackerel stock, which is our top priority.”

Iceland also reiterated its commitment to reach a diplomatic resolution to the mackerel issue. The country has repeatedly proposed that the Coastal States (Iceland, the EU, Norway and the Faroe Islands) collectively lower the catch, including recommending at the last negotiation session in October a universal 15 per cent cut in 2013 and significant reductions in future years. Although these proposals were not accepted by the other Coastal States, Iceland expressed hope that the Coastal States will return to negotiations soon.

“We are willing to further reduce our catch if other Coastal States agree to do so as well. We need to work as partners to protect the mackerel stock, and Iceland is ready to take this important step so we can reach a reasonable agreement together,” said Mr Sigfússon. “I hope the Coastal States will return to the negotiating table with us to discuss concrete proposals.”

Iceland’s quota cut comes even as the mackerel stock has grown tremendously in Iceland’s waters in recent years. Cooperative international studies indicated 1.1 million tons of mackerel were found in Iceland’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in 2010 and 2011, and 1.5 million tons in 2012. This constituted an estimated 20-30 per cent of the overall Northeast Atlantic mackerel population. The stock gained an estimated 50 per cent of its weight while in Iceland’s nutrient-rich waters.

“We need stronger scientific analysis of the mackerel population, following the recent changes in the stock’s migratory patterns that have increased its numbers in Iceland’s waters,” said Mr Sigfússon. “We were disappointed that the EU and Norway again claimed 90 per cent of ICES’ recommended catch level of 542,000 tons, a far oversized portion of the catch given the changed migration pattern. We must use science to ensure all the Coastal States, including Iceland, receive a fair portion of the catch, as they are legally entitled to.”

As part of this call for greater scientific research, Mr Sigfússon encouraged the EU to join the Marine Research Institutes of Iceland, the Faroe Islands and Norway in the Nordic trawler surveys of the mackerel population. In summer 2012, the international survey indicated the mackerel population’s weight was 5.1 million tons, an increase from the 2010 estimate of 4.8 million tons. However, the data includes no information from the EU, which does not participate.

In 2012, Iceland’s share of the actual mackerel catch by the Coastal States (Iceland, the EU, Norway and the Faroe Islands) and Russia was approximately 16 per cent, with the countries’ combined actual 2012 catch estimated at approximately 920,000 tons, pending final reporting. The Faroe Islands and Russia have yet to announce their 2013 catch quotas, but Iceland’s share is likely to remain approximately 16 per cent, if other countries also lower their 2013 catch quotas by 15 per cent.

Despite Iceland's commitment to reducing its mackerel catch and towards solving the on-going mackerel dispute, Ian Gatt, chief executive of the Scottish Pelagic Fishermen’s Association said: “Whilst Iceland is following the lead of the EU and Norway who have already reduced their mackerel quota by 15 per cent, it is an inescapable fact that Iceland is still taking an excessively large share that is fished unilaterally and without any international management plan.

“It is important to highlight that while Iceland’s share allocation demands are based on 15 per cent of the total catch, the actual quota they have set themselves is close to 23 per cent.

“This is an issue that can only be resolved by negotiation and the onus is on both Iceland and the Faroes to table a realistic counter offer so as to get the negotiating process rolling again.”

Oliver Drewes, spokesperson for Commissioner Maria Damanaki, EU Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries also commented: "The Commission regrets Iceland's announcement of a unilateral fishing quota for mackerel. We regret that Iceland has decided its own quota unilaterally and not in consultation with its partners, for yet another year.

"Iceland's claim to reduce its quota conceals the fact that Iceland's unilateral quota remains excessively high, before and after the reduction. Iceland awards itself almost a quarter (23 per cent) of the entire scientifically justified quota for the North Atlantic mackerel stock, from a zero level a few years ago. This leaves the 10 or more other fishing nations to share the remainder, therefore Iceland's mackerel fisheries is still unsustainable and ignores the health of the mackerel fish stock as well as the legitimate interests of all other costal parties.

"Iceland's self-awarded quota of 23 per cent exceeds by far Iceland's own claim, made at the negotiating table, and anything that scientific surveys can justify.

"Science is clearly pointing to the need to reduce catches of mackerel. The European Union and Norway have imposed on themselves much higher reductions in 2013. The European Union and Norway have cut their catches by more than 89,000 tonnes, compared to Iceland's announced reduction of around 25,000 tonnes.

"The Commission remains committed to finding a multilateral solution with all coastal partners and appeals to Iceland to return to the negotiating table with an offer that is sustainable and constructive."

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