Iceland warned by Coveney over mackerel catches

Tue, Mar 20, 2012, 00:00

THE GOVERNMENT has intensified its campaign against Iceland’s fisheries policy, warning that the country’s bid to join the EU may be curtailed if it fails to settle a dispute over its increasing mackerel catches.

As EU member states moved yesterday to expedite trade sanctions against Reykjavik over the catches, Minister for the Marine Simon Coveney warned that the dispute could jeopardise the opening of accession talks with Iceland on fisheries policy generally.

The Government argues that a massive increase in mackerel catches by Iceland and the Faroe Islands amounts to a plundering of Ireland’s most valuable fishery in violation of international law.

While not stating explicitly that Ireland may veto the opening of the fisheries chapter in the accession process when it comes before ministers next month, Mr Coveney said realistic debate on that question would be impossible in the absence of a settlement.

“We want this issue resolved and it is a significant open sore that needs to be lanced in my view before we can have a constructive debate during the fisheries chapter,” he told reporters in Brussels.

“I’m not talking about vetoes or any of that kind of stuff, but I think it’s important for us to raise a flag on this issue.”

After five unsuccessful attempts to break the stalemate with Iceland and the Faroe Islands, Mr Coveney said Ireland’s concerns were shared by Britain, Spain, Portugal, France and Germany.

He insisted, however, that he was a strong supporter of Iceland’s bid to join the EU, adding that Ireland had much in common with the country and saw it as a potential ally in the union.

“But this is in an issue in my view that makes it very difficult for the EU to open a fisheries chapter in good faith while there is such a significant outstanding issue in terms of the mackerel crisis, as I would call it,” he said.

“I haven’t called for anything apart from that, apart from to say that if we’re to have a discussion in good faith on the fisheries chapter of the accession negotiations with Iceland, well then it’s difficult to do that in the absence of an agreement on mackerel beforehand because that will colour those negotiations.”

Mr Coveney was speaking as marine ministers tackled the contentious policy of discarding up to half the fish caught in EU waters because they are too small or fall outside European quotas.

The question is central to the ongoing effort to reform the EU’s fishery policy. “Somewhere between 40 to 50 per cent of all the fish caught at the moment are thrown over the side, dead. We cannot continue to allow this practice,” the Minister said.

“The commissioner has now accepted that we need to take a step- by-step approach here, that you can’t just overnight ban all discards and expect the industry to be able to live with that.”

Such an approach would result in tens of thousands of tonnes of juvenile, unwanted and unmarketable fish on the quayside and there was no mechanism to deal with that. A fishery-by-fishery approach would be developed and new technology would be deployed to curtail or eliminate discards.