Mackerel wars looming and with it Killybegs’ future

The big talking-point in Killybegs these days is the looming mackerel war with Iceland and the Faroe Islands. This row has been simmering for more than two years since those countries announced unilaterally that they were going to take about 50% of the Total Allowable Catch (TAC) of the north-east Atlantic herring stock.

The big talking-point in Killybegs these days is the looming mackerel war with Iceland and the Faroe Islands. This row has been simmering for more than two years since those countries announced unilaterally that they were going to take about 50% of the Total Allowable Catch (TAC) of the north-east Atlantic herring stock.

This decision - and the ruthless follow-through of the two fleets to put it into effect - threw the management of the stock into a cocked hat and has major implications for Ireland and, in particular, Killybegs.

For several years up to that, the mackerel stock had been so well managed by the EU and Norwegian fleets that the size of the shoal was increasing every year, unlike many other stocks worldwide. This increase was verified scientifically and earned the mackerel a coveted certificate of sustainability from the Marine Stewardship Council.

Unfortunately, as a direct result of the pillaging of the stock by the Faroes and Iceland, this certification has recently been withdrawn for both fresh and processed mackerel. This has collapsed the value of the fish caught both by EU vessels and by the intruders and will have major implications for fish processing operations targeting the high-value outlets to which an MSC certificate is an entry requirement.

The Killybegs boats do not fish for mackerel at this time of year, concentrating their effort between late October and the following March.

A further development which is causing much concern in Killybegs is the news that the EU is proposing to offer Iceland and the Faroe Islands about 10 per cent each of the Total Allowable Catch. The EU Commission would see this as a means of ending the uncontrolled raiding of the stock by those countries and consider it a reasonable price to pay for an end to the row.

Killybegs fishermen, however, are inclined to view such an offer as a reward being offered to the two fleets for what amounts to high seas piracy. They favour a more confrontational response and have succeeded in convincing the European Parliament to vote for a ban on all fish and fish products from the two countries pending a settlement.

Donegal MEP, Pat the Cope Gallagher, as rapporteur, has played a major role in steering this motion through the parliament.

At this week’s meeting of the Council of Fisheries Ministers, Irish Fisheries Minister, Simon Coveney, told his colleagues that “any scenario which would reward the unsustainable and opportunistic mackerel fishing by Iceland should not be supported.” And he added that “Mackerel is the financial driver of our pelagic catching and processing industries. We have worked at EU level and with Norway to build up and sustainably manage this stock.

“I cannot justify a situation where Iceland and the Faroes could each end up with a disproportionate share of the mackerel stock, unjustified by scientific evidence or historic catches. A deal with Iceland alone will not save the stocks but could result in the permanent loss of EU jobs and economic activity in remote coastal areas and it is for those reasons that I am urging the Commission to agree a solution which will prevent this happening.”

Watch this space.