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A EUROPEAN fishermen’s organisation has accused the Icelandic Government of “undertaking a disingenuous propaganda exercise” by attempting to justify their increased mackerel catches.

According to the Northern Pelagic Working Group (NPWG), the Icelandic Ministry of Industries and Innovation has embarked on a series of propaganda briefings throughout the EU for the local seafood industry and other fishing industry stakeholders in a bid to try to justify their massive, unjustified unilateral increase in mackerel quota. Iceland, who caught only 363 tons of mackerel in 2005, set themselves a mackerel quota for 2012 of 145,000 tons, putting the health of the stock in jeopardy.

The Faroe Islands, after stepping out of the mackerel management agreement in which they participated from the start, also set itself a massive unilateral quota of 148,375 tons in 2012, which was so large that it had to invite foreign vessels to catch the stock on their behalf.

Gerard van Balsfoort, chair of the NPWG, finds its incomprehensible: “that the Icelandic Government has entered the path of justifying the unjustifiable, while at the same time threatening the sustainability of the healthy mackerel stock and also endangering many jobs in the pelagic fishing sector across the EU and the future prosperity of fishery dependent communities”.

For the last four years, a protracted number of serious 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 to a sanctions package against both Iceland and the Faroes. This threat of a possible sanction package now has caused the Icelandic Government to hire a prominent UK-based PR company to put a positive spin on their irresponsible behaviour.

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

Moreover, according to the Scottish Pelagic Fishermen’s Association, the Embassy of Iceland in London and Iceland’s Ministry of Industries and Innovation is holding a briefing meeting in Lincolnshire tomorrow (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.

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 association, says the Iceland Government is now trying to take advantage of these concerns by holding tomorrow’s 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.”

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