Faroese & Mackerel War (Feb. 2013)

‘MOVEMENTS in the right direction… But’ – Faroese Government’s position in the ongoing ‘Mackerel War’


Article by SeafoodIntelligence.Com Editor Bertrand Charron Posted on February 25, 2013

After four years of multiple rounds of talks, agreement on the sharing of the North East Atlantic mackerel quota between the coastal states is still at a deadlock. On one side, the European Union and Norway; on the ‘other’: Iceland and the Faroese Islands. The main result to date? Mackerel has been de facto massively overfished (by 30-50%) and a year ago, the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) had to suspend the certificate for the seven NE Atlantic mackerel fisheries concerned. 2013 promises to be yet another  year of ‘unsustainable’ fishing for this pelagic species of great economic importance to several Coastal States. Last month, the influential eNGO, the Marine Conservation Society, adviser to many retailers on their sustainable seafood policies, told British consumers: “After years of being a popular sustainable choice, mackerel should no longer be appearing so regularly on your dinner plate.

The ‘mackerel war’ (now entering its 5th year) is – we believe – only a sign of things to come as many other migratory (and non-) fish species will see their regional distributions shift in the world’s oceans… thus potentially prompting international fishing negotiations havocs. With Fisheries only being one of the many economic areas where diplomatic skills will need to tune-in, fast, to climate change… This is whySeafoodIntelligence sought to understand what are the issues at stake, from the little-heard (in European media) Faroese viewpoint.

Seen from a Faroese perspective, the main deadlock is that EU and Norway still seem unwilling to fully acknowledge the changes in the mackerel distribution and the legitimate interests of the Faroe Islands, and national dependency of the Faroe Islands on the mackerel stock,” Andras Kristiansen, Head of Department, Ministry of Fisheries, and Head of the Faroese Delegation in the negotiations on mackerel and herring, told us.

The ‘quadrilateral’ nature of this international dispute means all bilateral agreements since 2009 (notably, the EU and Norway’s) have been under international law as ‘unilateral’ as Iceland’s and the Faroese’… with the only solution to be found in negotiations and diplomacy. This is why we asked – among others – what would Faroese think of the involvement of an independent ‘international mediator’, as urged by the Scots… See full Q&As below…

Last month, the influential eNGO, the Marine Conservation Society, adviser to many retailers on their sustainable seafood policies, told British consumers: “After years of being a popular sustainable choice, mackerel should no longer be appearing so regularly on your dinner plate.” – [Read Editorial : MCS downgrade: “Mackerel should no longer be appearing so regularly on your dinner plate” (23.01.2013).]



The booklet on the ‘Faroes Islands in figures 2012’ (http://www.hagstova.fo/portal/page/portal/SHARED/HAGSTOVA_MAIN_TEMPLATE/Faroe%20Islands%20in%20figures%202012_WEB.pdf) states (p15) that in 2011, out of a total 122,000 tonnes of  mackerel caught, (only) 34,900t were caught in ‘Faroese Waters’. This must mean ~87,000t (71% of total Faroese catch) was caught elsewhere (such as off Greenland, Jan Mayen and in the Norwegian sea):

  • SeafoodIntelligence: Question 1/Clarification: Doesn’t this undermine the Faroese Government’s contention that even if mackerel are being caught further West & North, much of this is not in Faroese water; and this may thus undermine the argument that the Faroese quota should be increased the 150,000t quota (2011; & 148,375t in 2012)? How does the Faroese Government justify an increase in such proportion?

Faroese Government Clarification regarding question 1:

The Faroese quota in 2010, 2011 and 2012 was fished entirely in Faroese waters.

Total mackerel catches in Faroese waters in 2011 were 144.000 tonnes. Faroese vessels caught around 123.000 tonnes, Russian vessels 18.500 tonnes and Icelandic vessels 2.500 tonnes.

(Russia and Iceland get mackerel quota from the Faroe Islands as part of the bilateral fisheries agreement between Faroe Islands and Russia and Faroe Islands and Iceland.)

The Faroese catch level is a clear reflection of the status and legitimate interests of the Faroe Islands as a stakeholder in the Northeast Atlantic mackerel stock. The Faroese fisheries zone is centrally located in the migration and distribution of mackerel. Mackerel occurs in great abundance and density in Faroese waters for at least 6 months of the year, exploiting the excellent feeding conditions in the Faroese area during the summer.

  • Question 2Has any progress been achieved since the beginning of the 2010, 2011 & 2012 negotiations? Which ones & what remains the main deadlocks from the Faroes Islands’ point of view?

Andras Kristiansen, Head of Department, Ministry of Fisheries, and Head of the Faroese Delegation in the negotiations on mackerel and herring:

“There have been movements in the right direction. However no proposals for sharing of the stock have been acceptable to all Parties.”

“Seen from a Faroese perspective, the main deadlock is that EU and Norway still seem unwilling to fully acknowledge the changes in the mackerel distribution and the legitimate interests of the Faroe Islands, and national dependency of the Faroe Islands on the mackerel stock.”

“Furthermore instead of encouraging an open and active dialogue with other parties on the issue, EU and Norway have been implemented landing bans and blockades and have refused to renew long-standing bilateral fisheries agreements for 2011, 2012 and 2013. Actions as these are counterproductive and do not contribute to finding a fair solution to mackerel management.”

  • Question 3: The Scots/British are urging the EU/Coastal States to bring in an “independent international mediator” since all the past 3 years’ discussion/negotiation rounds have failed: Is this something the Faroese Government would be open to discussing? If so, what attributes should this ‘mediator’ display/provide? And who could you suggest? If not, why not?

Andras Kristiansen:

“This issue of bringing in an independent international mediator has not been discussed between the coastal states.

“The Faroe Islands would prefer that the coastal states solve the issue amongst themselves. However the Faroe Islands will not refrain from discussing the option with the other coastal states if other coastal states have a preference for such a solution.”

  • Question 4: If historically (prior to 2009) the [Iceland + Faroes] share of the global NE Atlantic mackerel Total Allowable Catch (TAC) was around 5%; and if the current position of Iceland & the Faroese would arguably be that each country gets a 15% share of the TAC (leaving 70% for Norway + EU, instead of the 90% they decided for themselves in 2013), but that such ‘steep and sudden’ TAC increase is the cause of the deadlock, could an intermediate position of around 10% of the TAC be acceptable to the Faroese?

Andras Kristiansen:

“I will not comment on numbers. This is part of the negotiations between the Parties.

“It is the view of the Government of the Faroes that a new sharing arrangement must reflect the changes in distribution of the mackerel stock in the region. To your comment on ‘steep and sudden TAC increase’ I would like to add that whether a change is ‘steep and sudden’ is in the eye of the beholder.

  • Question 5: When will the Faroese Minister of Fisheries decide and announce the 2013 TAC for mackerel? Is it likely to show a decrease? And if so in similar proportions to Iceland’s 2013 TAC decrease (-15% vs. 2012)?

Faroese Government:

A catch limit for mackerel fisheries in Faroese waters in 2013 has not been announced yet. This will be done shortly.

  • SeafoodIntelligence Questions 6,7 & 8 re. EU/Norway ‘threat’ of trade sanction against the Faroese

Question 6: There have been votes in the European Parliament allowing for trade sanctions against the Faroese; is this something which the Faroese Government is concerned about? If so, what does the Faroese Government fears the most. If not: why not?

Question 7: Should the EU and/or Norway proceed with their intentions to impose trade sanctions against Faroese exports. Do you believe this would constitute an “extreme” measure?

Question 8: Since the Faroe Islands and the EU are bonded by a free trade agreement (FTA), could one conceive that should trade sanctions be imposed by the EU, your Government (via Denmark) would take up this issue with the World Trade Organisation (WTO)?

Faroese Government:

It is the view of the Government of the Faroes that EU Regulation 1026/2012 is a tool which stands in contrast to fundamental principles enshrined in United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea, one of which is that is for coastal States alone to establish national quotas in maritime areas under national jurisdiction. Where fish stocks straddle several maritime jurisdictions the States involved are obliged to do the utmost to reach an agreement on management of the stocks. It is only within this process that a solution to the disagreement on allocation – and not of the establishment of a total allowable catch – can be found. Further, threats of economic sanctions as a substitute to the legal avenue provided for in Part V of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea is incompatible with fundamental resolutions of United Nations General Assembly, three of which are resolutions 1803 (XVII) og 2158 (XXI) and 2625 (XXV).

The Agreement establishing the World Trade Organization sets forward five cumulative criteria which need to be fulfilled in order for any measure, such as those which the EU threats to use, to be consistent with WTO law. This ensures that WTO Members may not unilaterally, in the name of environmental concerns, successfully adopt measures which de facto seek to protect national industries, and which breach substantive provisions of the WTO Agreement. The Government of the Faroes feels confident that the WTO dispute settlement mechanism will, as appropriate and as relevant, be in a position to resolve the matter, should EU adopt any measure incompatible with the WTO Agreement.

  • SeafoodIntelligence re. ‘How long can this deadlock last for? Un-sustainable (over)fishing’

As your documents point out, there has been continued and de facto collective ‘overfishing’ of NE Atl. mackerel in the past three years. For 2013, the ICES recommended a TAC of 497,000-542,000t. But already the EU & Norway have allocated themselves 492,136t (90.38% of the maximum ICES advised TAC) and Iceland has announced its TAC of 123,182t. This brings the 2013 TAC – without the forthcoming Faroese TAC – to 615,318t (+13% over maximum ICES advice).

2013 will thus be another year of unsustainable mackerel fishing by the EU/Norway/Iceland/Faroese (to the tune of 30-50%) and the MSC certificates for all 7 NE Atlantic mackerel fisheries have already been suspended for one year…

Question 9: Does the Faroese Government believe anything can be done to bring the negotiations to a satisfactory conclusion and prevent overfishing in 2013? Or is too late for 2013, but perhaps 2014?

Andras Kristiansen:

“I expect that the next meeting between the Parties will be on a sharing arrangement for 2014 and onwards.”

“The Faroese mackerel fisheries for 2013 have not started yet, however it is my understanding that some of the coastal states have started their fisheries and that the 2013 quota has been distributed to the vessels.”

  • SeafoodIntelligence re. Climate Change & yearly/regional fish stock in International Law…

Question 10: Do some of the Coastal State involved refuse to ‘admit’ that there is a global/warming/climate change dimension to the argument the Faroese and Iceland are making (change in mackerel distribution), and that TAC-sharing should only be based on historical landing/catch/TAC (industry-size) figures?

Andras Kristiansen:

“It is my opinion that the parties involved in the mackerel consultations accept and admit that there are changes in the distribution of the mackerel stock. However, there is not agreement on how this change should be reflected in a new sharing arrangement.”

Question 11: What would the best way to demonstrate undeniably that Climate Change is indeed occurring and impacting on fish stocks – and notably mackerel and herring – distribution?

Faroese Government:

The Faroe Islands find it vital that all coastal states cooperate jointly in scientific research surveys in order to provide the broadest possible coverage of the mackerel and herring stock and thereby ensure the best possible scientific basis for future management decisions.

The Faroe Islands are committed to contributing to such research. The Faroe Marine Research Institute takes part in the joint pelagic ecosystem research surveys that covers mackerel and herring, and will also participate in the forthcoming 2013 egg survey on mackerel.

Research is also being done in Faroese waters on the effects of the increased occurrence of mackerel on the Faroe Plateau ecosystem during the intense feeding period in summer.

Question 12: As the mackerel dispute is probably only the first of several climate-change-related international disputes, especially in the multilateral management of migratory fish species: Could one envisage a solution such as trying to introduce legal clauses / amendments to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea which would embody the concept that multilateral fisheries negotiations should take into account climate change-induced geographical distribution changes? [This would mean that TAC sharing arrangement could change (and even be reversed) periodically, based on independent surveys/assessment findings.]

Faroese Government:

It is the view of the Government of the Faroes that United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, in conjunction with the Stradding Fish Stocks Agreement, constitutes an inclusive instrument to resolve all matters related to the management of shared fish stocks. It also includes a conciliation mechanism to resolve disagreements such as the mackerel allocation disagreement, which the EU, by the adoption of Regulation 1026/2012, seeks to bypass.

Question 13: Climate change is affecting the many other fish species, with mackerel and herring only two of the species affected: Are there other fish species whose TACs the Faroese authorities think should be renegotiated in the near future?

Question 14: Could one also conceive that if one agreement is reached over one fish species, this could also lead TAC-sharing agreement for other fish species (eg. cod being also going further North)? Would the Faroese Government think this should also logically take place (sometimes to the detriment of the Faroese TAC shares?).

Andras Kristiansen:

“This is speculative issue and I find it premature to prejudge/state a specific position to what would possible happen in the future.”


Backgrounders: Some of the relevant news previously on the SeafoodIntelligence.com News Database:


On Twitter @Salmoskius:

@SimonCoveney @MariaDamanakiEU @RichardLochhead @MSCecolabel Q&A with Faroese Gov’t/Head Negot’r re #mackerel ‘war’http://is.gd/FaroesMackerel1

Steep & sudden’ is in the eye of the beholder – Faroese Head Negotiator re. #mackerel quota increases http://is.gd/FaroesMackerel1#ClimateChange

@GunnarHJ #Mackerel ‘war’ from Faroese view: EU/Norway still seem unwilling to acknowledge fish distribution changeshttp://is.gd/FaroesMackerel1

@MariaDamanakiEU Faroes confident WTO dispute settlement mechanisms could deal wih any WTO-“incompatible” EU measureshttp://is.gd/FaroesMackerel1

Of #Diplomacy & #ClimateChange: ‘Mackerel war’ between Iceland, Faroes, EU, & Norway a sign of things to come?http://is.gd/FaroesMackerel1

Guaranteed 2013 #Mackerel overfishing in NE Atl. yet again: ‘next meeting will be on a sharing arrangement for 2014’http://is.gd/FaroesMackerel1


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