A deal of the sort being put forward by the European Commission to end the mackerel dispute would be disastrous for the UK fishing industry, according to Shetland Fishermen’s Association.
The organisation, which represents one third of Britain’s pelagic vessels, said the proposal from Brussels bureaucrats would reward Iceland and Faroe for their “piracy” while posing a grave long-term threat to the fleet.
Ahead of a meeting of the EU Fisheries Council on Thursday, SFA executive officer Simon Collins urged UK and Scottish fisheries ministers George Eustice and Richard Lochhead to avoid being rushed into a Commission-sponsored quick fix.
The SFA understands that following recent interim advice from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) for an increase in the total allowable catch (TAC) of mackerel of up to 64 per cent, the Commission is proposing a revised international agreement that could hand Iceland a rise in its share of the new TAC from zero to 11.9 per cent.
It is also understood that pending a positive response from Iceland, Faroe will be offered a similar deal.
Mr Collins said: “While everyone wants an end to the dispute and to see a return to stability, this deal is quite simply a reward for piracy on the part of Iceland and Faroe.
“These countries – where there had been relatively little mackerel fishing in the past – have awarded themselves huge quota increases in recent years outside the bounds of recognised international agreement. They have deliberately flouted the responsible management system that was set up to ensure the sustainability of the mackerel stock in the north-east Atlantic.
“Now, if this proposal by the EU is accepted by the other coastal states responsible for the management of the mackerel fishery, Iceland, Faroe and Greenland could all of a sudden be awarded somewhere approaching 30 per cent of the TAC.”
He added: “Yes, our boats would be given an increase in the quantity of fish they could catch, but much more significantly their share of the overall mackerel quota would be severely reduced.”
Mr Collins called on Mr Eustice and Mr Lochhead to examine the long-term consequences of the deal on an industry which was worth £130 million to Scotland last year.
He said: “As the latest ICES advice suggests, mackerel stocks are currently in a very healthy state, but population levels are cyclical.
“When they reduce, our fishing effort will be squeezed based on a reduced share of the TAC and we simply won’t be able to sustain our present fleet – a fleet which has been built over many years on one of the most stable fishing opportunities our men have ever seen.
“What this deal heralds is no jobs for the sons and grandsons of members of this community who have taken great personal risks to build a successful pelagic fleet in the first place.
“The deal apparently prevents Icelandic and Faroese boats from fishing for mackerel in EU waters, but again what happens when stocks reduce – they are already decreasing – off Iceland and Faroe to the point where their boats can no longer land?
“They will have been rewarded once – they’ll expect the EU to roll over and grant them access to our waters.”
He said there was a firm precedent in the blue whiting dispute a decade ago, when promises that there would be no access to EU waters for non-member states were broken.
Mr Collins said pelagic fishermen in Shetland would rather see the existing quota level maintained to allow time for sanctions to have an impact.
“We are very uneasy about the haste with which a deal is being sought. The European Commission is proposing to give away mackerel. Instead, we should be fighting for the future of our fishermen.”