EU ban on Icelandic mackerel hailed

An EU ban on landings of Icelandic mackerel at all European ports was hailed tonight as the right response to end a damaging stalemate over catch quotas.

EU Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki confirmed the ban at talks in Brussels, and was urged to go even further if the move does not break the deadlock threatening the Scottish fishing fleet's most valuable stock.

In the absence of a fish quota deal with the EU last year, Iceland unilaterally upped its mackerel quota six-fold - absorbing the bulk of available North Atlantic mackerel supplies.

The ban on landing such catches within the EU is designed to persuade the Icelandic government to resume talks on settling a mackerel quota deal. The EU is also at odds with the Faroe Islands, which also has a stake in the mackerel catch.

Scottish Fisheries Secretary Richard Lochhead said: "I'm pleased that the European Commission has today signalled its intent to take forward swift action against Iceland if required. We must not forget Faroe Islands and I urge the commissioner also to bring forward proposals that would allow similar provisions to be put in place for the Faroes.

"However, Scotland's overarching priority remains the agreement of a new deal to safeguard the future of the mackerel stock.

"Therefore, I welcome Iceland's indication that they are willing to resume talks and hope that they will come back to the table as a matter of urgency."

Ian Gatt, chief executive of the Scottish Pelagic Fishermen's Association, said the ban was an important first step: "We would like to see the sanctions increased further to cover all fresh and frozen mackerel imports and also fishmeal made from unsustainably caught Icelandic mackerel."

He said any new mackerel negotiations with Iceland must be on the basis of a "more realistic attitude" from Iceland to ensure the conservation and sustainability of the mackerel stock.

Scottish Conservative MEP Struan Stevenson said: "Iceland's further increase in its already massively inflated quota - from 130,000 tonnes last year to 147,000 tonnes this year - was nothing short of brinkmanship.

"But if Iceland thought the EU was bluffing when we warned of retaliation, they have just discovered to their cost that we were not."

He went on: "Scottish fishermen are rightly outraged that a stock they have worked hard over many years to manage sustainably is being ruthlessly plundered by Iceland and the Faroe Islands as it migrates through their waters.

"Since no one party 'owns' this migratory stock, there is all the more need for a workable agreement among coastal states - not the smash and grab tactics these Viking raiders have employed."

Under a European Economic Area accord with Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein, member states are entitled "to refuse landings of fish stock of common interest over the management of which there is serious disagreement".

Scottish Labour fisheries spokeswoman Karen Gillon said: "Iceland's irresponsible actions could have had a damaging impact on the industry in Scotland as sustainable mackerel stocks are vital for our fleets.

"The EU must also take swift action against the Faroe Islands if the nation follows in Iceland's footsteps."

Scottish Liberal Democrat fisheries spokesman Liam McArthur said: "I hope that this ban will act as a wake-up call to Iceland and that the ban can be lifted in due course. However, the ball is now very much in Iceland's court."