ICELAND's Ministry of Fisheries has released a statement refuting the seven reasons why its mackerel have been downgraded by the Marine Conservation Society (MCS), as they feel that the justifications for the low rating appear to reflect inaccurate information.
The Government of Iceland also hopes to meet with the MCS as soon as possible to discuss Iceland's sustainable fishing practices, explore opportunities to conduct research together and identify policies to best manage the mackerel stock.
The government's refutations to the claims are as follows:
MCS Claim 1: Iceland has never been in or applied for certification under the MSC programme.
Iceland works with numerous independent international fishing and marine organisations to ensure its fishing practices are sustainable, including the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES). The Marine Research Institute of Iceland and Iceland Responsible Fisheries also play an important role in providing scientific evidence and setting strong standards to ensure the health of the stock. In addition, some Icelandic fisheries participate in Marine Stewardship Council programmes, though not yet for mackerel, which has only appeared in catchable numbers in Iceland's waters in recent years.
MCS Claim 2: Declared catches far in excess of scientific recommendations.
The EU, including Scotland, and Norway have claimed 90 percent of the recommended 2013 catch level, leaving only 10 percent for Iceland, the Faroe Islands and Russia combined. This is simply not realistic or reasonable. Their decision was made unilaterally and behind closed doors, despite independent research showing that up to 30 percent of the mackerel stock was in Iceland's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in 2012. This continued the massive growth in the size of the mackerel population in our waters. Iceland however cut its 2013 mackerel catch by 15 percent and is prepared to cut further if other countries agree to do so as well.
MCS Claim 3: Unilaterally drastically increased declared landings from historically 0-6% to 23% of the total recommended catch for all nations.
The increase in the Icelandic mackerel catch is a result of the massive increase of the mackerel population in Icelandic waters. Scientific research issued this week by the University of British Columbia on shifting fish habitats caused by changing water temperatures confirmed that mackerel are moving from Norway's waters to Iceland's. The simple fact is that there had been no or very few mackerel of Iceland's coasts in the past, whereas now there are many. Even though up to 30 percent of the stock inhabits our waters, we still reduced our 2013 catch by 15 percent.
MCS Claim 4: Fishery is operating outside of a recognised ICES science based management plan.
Iceland partners with ICES and other independent international groups to understand the mackerel stock's behaviour, track its location and numbers, and set sustainable fishing levels that will ensure the long-term health of the stock. This includes participation in the Nordic trawlers surveys jointly conducted by Iceland, Norway and the Faroe Islands which have confirmed the rapid increase in the mackerel population in Iceland's waters. We hope the EU, including Scotland, will reverse its policy of non-participation in this vital fisheries management plan. All of our fishing quotas are based on a deep analysis of scientific data and careful collaboration with recognised experts.
MCS Claim 5: Following 15 rounds of high level international negotiations Iceland have left the table leaving negotiations in stalemate.
This is simply not true. Iceland has never left the negotiation table and has continually offered fair and reasonable proposals to the Coastal States during negotiations that would implement mackerel quota reductions for all countries. These proposals have all been rejected. Demonstrating its willingness to return to the negotiating table and find a fair solution, Iceland has called for renewed talks amongst the Coastal States on many occasions in 2013. We find the Marine Conservation Society's statement on this point confusing, and kindly ask, once again, that the Coastal States re-join us at the table with good-faith proposals for consideration.
MCS Claim 6: Reports of high levels of mixed Herring catches with Mackerel as fishing takes place during feeding season.
The fishing of herring in Iceland is closely regulated and abides to all international agreements. There is no scientific evidence that shows otherwise. The country has one of the most intense surveillance programmes in the world, with greater oversight and scrutiny than EU countries, and catch levels are automatically updated online on a constant basis to ensure full transparency. Iceland welcomes the opportunity to educate the Marine Conservation Society about its mixed catch policies and efforts to protect all stocks.
MCS Claim 7: High volume of reportedly poorer quality fish from this fishery is driving down prices depending on market and product.
The Marine Conservation Society has no factual evidence to back this claim. Iceland would welcome scientific research on this topic. In fact, the prices Iceland receives for its mackerel are generally high, reflecting its high-quality reputation in the market.
Meanwhile Icleand's Steingrímur J Sigfússon, Minister of Industries and Innovation, said: "We are disappointed by the Marine Conservation Society's decision to re-list Icelandic mackerel as 'fish to avoid' for consumers while upgrading European mackerel . This unreasonable move toward Icelandic mackerel does not consider the scientific facts of the debate and Iceland's repeated efforts to find a fair solution to mackerel fishing quotas. Because the Marine Conservation Society did not engage with Iceland's government or Iceland Responsible Fisheries prior to issuing its ratings, we hope to meet with the organisation as soon as possible to explain how Iceland is protecting the mackerel stock by reducing our catch and fishing using sustainable practices, and to explore opportunities to collaborate on research and fisheries management policy."
"The portion of the total mackerel stock inhabiting Iceland's waters has increased massively from 23 percent in 2010 and 2011 to 30 per cent in 2012. Despite this, the EU and Norway met behind closed doors to jointly claim 90 per cent of the recommended 2013 total mackerel catch, a significantly oversized portion which left only 10 per cent for Iceland, the Faroe Islands and Russia combined. According to international law, Iceland, like the other Coastal States, has an incontestable right to a fair portion of this shared fish stock, particularly to ensure that overpopulation does not damage our marine ecosystem."
"Iceland has repeatedly come to the negotiating table with fair, science-based quota proposals. These have all been rejected. In addition, we have made a number of public and private requests to reconvene the Coastal States for negotiations. Despite the silence from the EU (including Scotland) and Norway after these requests, Iceland cut its 2013 mackerel catch by 15 per cent and committed to cut further if other countries do as well. Iceland's government and fishing industry are eager to find a solution as soon as possible and again ask the Coastal States to return to the negotiating table in good faith.
"Protecting the Northeast Atlantic mackerel stock is the responsibility of all Coastal States. Iceland has partnered with the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) and other research institutes to ensure that science drives our decisions about fishing levels and techniques. Blaming one or two parties to the dispute, as the Marine Conservation Society has done, will confuse consumers and will not help to secure an agreement between all Coastal States."