by Staff Writers
Reykjavik (AFP) July 17, 2012
Iceland on Tuesday dismissed calls by Ireland's and other EU countries for sanctions against the country and the Faroe Islands for over-fishing of mackerel as "propaganda".
"Essentially it's propaganda," Fisheries and Agriculture Minister Steingrimur Sigfusson told AFP.
Backed by France, Portugal and Spain, Ireland asked the European Commission Monday for information on potential trade measures against their north Atlantic neighbours, the latest chapter in an ongoing "mackerel war."
EU fishing states are angry at high quotas set unilaterally by Iceland and the Faroe Islands, an autonomous Danish territory, on the grounds that global warming is pushing more mackerel north into their waters.
The European Commission estimates mackerel fishing this year will be 36 percent higher than levels deemed sustainable for the stock.
Sigfusson stressed Tuesday that "the mackerel eats and grows in Icelandic waters and thus takes away from other fish. We will not succumb to pressure and will stand our ground."
The EU and Iceland, the Faroe Islands and Norway are set to meet in London in September to try to hammer out a new agreement on mackerel quotas and bring an end to the conflict.
Meanwhile, fishermen are assessing stocks, Sigfusson said, stressing that "results ... will not be available until August or September, and only then will we be able to comment on whether or not the stock is in danger of being over-fished."
The International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES), an intergovernmental body, has said no more than 639,000 tonnes of mackerel can be caught this year -- far less than the 930,000 tonnes taken last year.
Iceland last year took around 17 percent of the total mackerel quota but in December, the EU suggested the island nation should be given just 6.5 percent of the total quota.
"We require a reasonable share in the stock and that is something we can not negotiate away," Sigfusson said.
In January 2011, Brussels said it would block fishing boats from Iceland -- which is negotiating to join the 27-nation group -- from unloading mackerel in the EU until the dispute over quotas was resolved.
About two months earlier, after quota talks failed, Iceland unilaterally raised its mackerel quota to 146,000 tonnes for 2011 from about 130,000 tonnes in 2010 -- an enormous level compared to 2,000 tonnes in previous years.
The increases came as Iceland's economy, which is now largely fishing-based, was trying to get back on its feet after its major banks collapsed in 2008.
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