ICELAND is mounting a strong scientific and technical defence as part of its arguments in the long-running mackerel dispute with Norway and the European Union.
On the Humber a few days ago Johann Sigurjonsson, director general of the Icelandic Marine Institute, the organisation which strictly monitors fish stocks around the island, and Sigurgeir Thorgeirsson, Iceland's chief negotiator at the mackerel talks, both outlined the country's arguments to Grimsby fishing chief.
Mr Sigurjonsson showed pictures of thousands of mackerel splashing about in and around Reykjavik harbour earlier this year and then explained that mackerel inhabits the shallow and deep waters off the British Isles, Ireland and Spain during the winter where most of the spawning takes place. Both the EU and Norway claim a long history of exploitation, but less so for Iceland.
The basis of his message was that mackerel were there in abundance, but the fish were also eating up huge quantities of food which includes valuable white fish stocks.
He said that during the warm water periods the summer distribution ranges far north where most of the feeding takes place - and this includes Icelandic waters in recent years.
"Mackerel has occurred inside the Icelandic exclusive economic zone (EEZ) for decades, particularly during warm periods and during the last decade as much as one to 1.15 million tons - or 20 to 30 per cent of the estimated summer stock. mackerel is a very significant part of the marine food web off Iceland in the summer and is estimated to increase in weight by 43-55 per cent during the feeding season, consuming as much as two to three million tons of food.
"This may have serious impacts on other economically important fish stocks (ie white fish) and animal life in Icelandic waters."
Mr Thorgeirsson, who is leading the negotiations, told his Humber audience that Iceland had shown flexibility in the talks and said its position is to follow ICES advice on total catches. He said: "It is important to strengthen the scientific evaluation of the mackerel stock. All coastal states have agreed on Iceland's proposal to ask ICES to strengthen assessment methods."
Mr Thorgeirsson added that it should be remembered that mackerel was a very significant part of the marine food web off his country. "Agreement should be reached because, if not, all countries will lose," he added.
At the same Humber gather Mr Benedikt Jonsson, the Icelandic Ambassador to Britain, said: "Contrary to hardball views demonstrated by the Scottish mackerel industry in The Scotsman newspaper, we firmly believe that a war of words gets us nowhere. Let me underline that my Government continues to be committed to maintaining the biodiversity and sustainability of the ocean resources and to protecting its economic and environmental interests by caring for the mackerel stock."
He added: "As you all know mackerel is a fish stock with a dynamic migration pattern that includes the exclusive economic zones of the EU, Iceland, Norway and the Faroe Islands. Regrettably, these parties have not been able to reach an agreement on how best to share the stock, despite several attempts to negotiate in recent years. Iceland remains, nonetheless, determined to find a solution that sustains the mackerel population, is based on science, and is fair to all Coastal States. "
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