Newlyn Fish Market - boats due to land.

Saturday, 26 June 2021

Mackerel: A toxic cocktail of money, politics and fish

 

In the past few weeks, we have seen a wide press coverage of Norway's unilateral decision to increase its mackerel quota in excess of the shares that were previously agreed in the now expired 2014 coastal States Agreement. This decision has been met with anger, and is seen as being reckless, irresponsible, and risks jeopardising the long-term sustainability of the shared NE Atlantic mackerel stock.

Norway is now being portrayed in the media as being opportunistic, uncooperative, uncompliant, and not interested in reaching a fair and balanced agreement on sustainable fisheries management with its coastal neighbours. Most of the allegations presented in the media are inaccurate and lack context; the Norwegian Pelagic Fishermen's Association categorically reject these allegations and are of the opinion that the situation is not best resolved by waging "trench warfare" in the media, but by way of a constructive dialogue and cooperation. Failure to cooperate and reach an agreement will be damaging not only to the sustainability of the stock, but to our collective reputation as responsible managers of sustainable fisheries.
 
Allegations about Norway undermining international agreements fall on their own unreasonableness. From the outset, Norway has requested a continuation with regards to shares and zonal access. Norway was for the sake of peace, willing to continue with a share lower than what Zonal Attachment would have indicated, and at the same time grant reciprocal access to all parties to Norwegian waters. In short - Norway only requested a continuation of the previous agreement, no more - no less. One must ask oneself why this was so difficult for the UK to accept?

What Norway did – and why?

Let us start with some facts: When Norway decided to unilaterally increase its mackerel quota, there existed no agreement to deviate from; the now defunct coastal States Agreement of 2014 between the EU, Faroe Islands and Norway expired in December 2020, and neither the EU nor UK showed any interest in prolonging that agreement. When the Norwegian quota was increased there was no agreement to break, so the allegations of a breach are therefore meaningless.

 Throughout the Brexit proceedings, Norway has, on numerous occasions, emphasized the need for a resumption of coastal States negotiations on mackerel and other shared pelagic stocks. The 2014 tripartite coastal States Agreement on mackerel, would not have been possible without Norway's considerable contributions to accommodate the Faroe Islands and other coastal States; the fact being that Norway had to reduce its share, to the benefit of reaching an agreement with the other coastal States. In our opinion zonal attachment is a useful concept when defining and agreeing shares. Norway would not have accepted a reduction in its rightful share, if it had not been for reciprocal zonal access being an integral part of the agreement. Norway chose to accept a reduced share as it saw this as necessary to achieve an agreement and contribute to a more sustainable management of the mackerel stock.

 Whilst we fully appreciate the complexities of the Brexit negotiations process; we cannot accept that Norway is made the fall guy for the dissatisfaction felt by the EU and UK fishing industries with the EU - UK Trade and cooperation agreement on fisheries.

Fact: The difference between zonal attachment and zonal access

 Zonal attachment is an internationally acknowledged principle in fisheries negotiations. The term implies scientific estimates for the quantity of biomass, fish, in a given area in a given period. Zonal attachment is normally used as a criteria when the coastal States are negotiating sharing arrangements for migratory fish stocks.

 Zonal access implies that the parties can agree to allow mutual access to fishing activities in each other areas of jurisdiction. The motivation to allow zonal access may vary, but often involves factors that contributes to optimizing the fishing operation, both biologically and economically.

The question of Zonal Attachment (ZA)

The UK with its new status as an independent coastal State, has signalled that it is a proponent of the concept of Zonal Attachment as an aid to defining coastal state allocations of shared stocks. There have been reactions from Scotland suggesting that Norway should reduce its ZA share due to the fact that in recent years, Norway has fished a large proportion of its mackerel quota in UK waters. 

The reason for Norwegian vessels fishing their mackerel quota in UK waters is based purely on bio-economic and optimising fishing operations, and not on the lack of mackerel in the Norwegian waters. On the background of ZA, and the increasing presence of mackerel in the Norwegian water, then both the EU and the UK might want to consider reducing their respective shares. The changes in the migratory pattern and spatial distribution of mackerel into Norwegian waters have been substantial during the last decade; where ICES's International Ecosystem Summer Survey in the Nordic Seas (IESSNS) for mackerel, documents increasing abundances of mackerel in Norwegian waters. Surveys in later years also show a striking decrease in mackerel abundance in western areas, which also coincide with a considerable increase in abundance of both mature and juvenile mackerel in Norwegian waters.

The zonal attachment analysis shows a strong presence of the mackerel stock in Norwegian waters throughout the year. The IESSNS survey report from 2020 documents that 57,7 % of the mackerel stock are present in Norwegian waters in Q3. The reports from 2011 and onwards also show a yearly average of approximately 40 % of the mackerel biomass in Norwegian waters.

The Norwegian decision to unilaterally increase its ZA quota share is justified and anchored in science, and lower than the documentation from the IESSNS survey would suggest.

Time to be responsible!

At present the lack of a management agreement is not a direct threat to the short-term sustainability of the mackerel stock – but it may be in the medium to long term. This will be damaging for all parties. The Norwegian Pelagic Fishermen's Association therefore urge the respective industry groups and authorities to start collaborating to find an acceptable mutual solution to this totally avoidable and damaging situation. Our door will always be open to our nearest neighbours, with the intention of reaching a mutually beneficial agreement on the long-term sustainable management of the NE Atlantic mackerel stock.

Lena Brungot Senior adviser The Norwegian Pelagic Fishermen’s Association, and also Member of the Norwegian delegation in the coastal States consultations.