Break in stalled EU-Norway fisheries talks will only raise the stakes, says NFFO
A short-lived third round of EU Norway talks in Bergen this week failed to rescue the annual reciprocal agreement from breakdown. The negotiations again stalled on the issue of Norwegian access to fish part of its mackerel quota in EU waters. The EU delegation has returned to Brussels with no date set for resumption of the talks.
No arrangements have been agreed for some kind of interim rollover arrangements that would allow EU and Norwegian fleets to fish in each others’ waters whilst a full deal is established.
The Norwegians had asked for access to fish 125,000 tonnes of its mackerel quota in EU waters (down from 153,000 tonnes) but the EU signaled that it was unwilling to move beyond 80,000 tonnes. We understand that all the other elements in the agreement had been tentatively agreed but the whole deal foundered on this one issue.
The failure to secure a reciprocal agreement will progressively impact on different fleets at different times for as long as the stalemate continues. Vessels that customarily fish in the Norwegian sector, either north or south of 62 degrees in January will be first hit.
In the final analysis both Norway and the EU need a fisheries agreement and it is difficult, from an exclusively fisheries perspective, to see what can be gained from this break. A settlement will (presumably) be reached in the New Year but in the meantime the dislocation will be serious for both fishing fleets. The negotiations appear to have degenerated into a game of poker, with neither side wanting to be seen to blink first. This break will only raise the stakes.
Without an agreement between EU and Norway on mackerel access it is unlikely that much progress will be made in bringing Iceland and Faeroes into a binding international agreement and as long as individual countries set their autonomous quotas at irresponsible levels there is a real threat that the stocks, which have to date been fished sustainably, could be put in jeopardy.
Variations in the Western mackerel migration patterns have posed challenges to management arrangements in the past, but the current mix of biological, economic and political factors has created a difficult knot to untangle.
The EU/ Norway breakdown will also complicate the December Council of Ministers, as the EU will now have to make a judgment about setting TACs for North Sea joint stocks which may not coincide with the final EU/ Norway deal. Transfers in particular will be a tricky area.