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EU warns Iceland, Faroes over 'mackerel war'

Canada's lost salmon found
Ottawa (AFP) Aug 25, 2010 - Sockeye salmon, which mysteriously vanished last year prompting a government inquiry, are expected to return to Canada's Fraser River this month in numbers not seen since 1913, officials said Wednesday. "Test fishing catches of sockeye have continued to be strong in the marine approach routes over the past several days," the Pacific Salmon Commission said in a report. "Current run size assessments suggest that the total Fraser sockeye return this season is slightly over 25,000,000 fish, which is the largest return since 1913."

The commission is responsible for shared salmon stocks on the Pacific Coast of Canada and the United States. Its latest forecast is double previous estimates for this season. Last year, Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans had projected that between six and 10 million sockeye salmon would return to the Fraser river in a peak August run. Only a fraction showed up and where the others went remains a mystery. A record number of salmon smolts were born in the Fraser in 2005 and migrated to the Pacific Ocean. Experts had expected many of them to return by last year to spawn.

Officials and ecologists speculated the salmon could have been affected by warmer ocean temperatures, fewer food sources, or more prey. Alternately, they might have contracted sea lice or an infection from area fish farms, or the fisheries department's complex forecasts may have been flawed. A judicial inquiry set up in November 2009 to investigate has not yet concluded its work. "Everybody is abuzz about the great return of the Fraser sockeye," Fisheries Minister Gail Shea told the daily Globe and Mail. But "we're welcoming this with cautious optimism," she added.
by Staff Writers
Brussels (AFP) Aug 25, 2010
Iceland and the Faroe Islands are overfishing mackerel way above a level deemed safe for the survival of the fish, the European Union's executive arm said Wednesday.

Iceland's fishing policies, notably its refusal to share its cod fishing waters, has been identified as a thorny issue to resolve with the EU in the North Atlantic island's bid to join the 27-nation club.

Oliver Drewes, the European Commission's spokesman for maritime affairs, said the dispute over mackerel would be discussed with Iceland and the Faroe Islands at a technical meeting in September.

"They are overfishing more than which is justifiable on the basis of scientific evidence," Drewes said at a news briefing.

"So in fact they are taking more out than which is good to maintain this fish in the future and that is the concern we have on the more fundamental basis," he said.

Iceland has unilaterally decided to raise its mackerel quota to 130,000 tonnes this year compared to the usual 2,000 tonnes.

The Faroe Islands, an autonomous Danish province located between Britain and Iceland, has set a quota of 85,000 tonnes, three times higher than the quota in force between 1999 and 2009 in a deal with the EU and Norway.

The Faroe Islands' fishing minister, Jacob Vestergaard, rejected accusations of overfishing.

"We are not overfishing and the species -- mackerel -- isn't threatened at all. The fish is abundant in our waters," he told AFP by telephone from the archipeligo's capital Torshavn.

Vestergaard said the quota was appropriate given the number of mackerel in their waters, estimates which were based on scientific studies.

The moves by Iceland the Faroe Islands and have angered Scottish and Norwegian fishermen.

A Scottish member of the European parliament, Struan Stevenson, called on Monday for an EU-wide blockade of Icelandic and Faroese ships and goods over what has been described as a "mackerel war".

"Iceland and the Faroes are acting just like their Viking ancestors, only this time it's our mackerel they're plundering," Stevenson said.

"So far they have obstinately refused to bring their quotas back down to sensible levels, so I believe the EU must apply maximum pressure to bring them back to the table," he said.

The international environmental group WWF has warned that the unilateral quotas set by Iceland and the Faroes could mean a "death sentence" for the fish.

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