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Blue whiting fishery negotiations deadlocked

EU Commission Fisheries

3rd May 2004

Continued deadlock in negotiations on blue whiting fishery is unacceptable and unjustified”

The continued deadlock among coastal states engaged in the north-east Atlantic blue whiting fishery has been severely criticised by Franz Fischler, Commissioner responsible for Agriculture, Rural Development and Fisheries.

Commissioner Fischler said, “For the past seven years, the Commission has been encouraging the other Parties to agree on a realistic and fair sharing out of the fishing possibilities for blue whiting as this is a precondition for effective management of this international stock. To achieve this and to protect the stock of blue whiting which was causing concern to scientists, the European Union unilaterally limited its catches for several years. Far from adopting the EU’s responsible approach, the other Parties have exponentially increased their catches so as to claim a much higher share than they are rightly entitled to. The EU is running out of patience. In this context and in view of the current high level of the blue whiting stock, the EU has increased its autonomous total allowable catch by 350,000 tonnes bringing it more into line with its catch levels during the 1990s. I urge our partners to recognise that the continued deadlock is unacceptable and unjustified and invite them to come to the negotiating table in a realistic and constructive spirit so that we can reach an agreement that is fair to all parties and ensure the long-term future of this fishery. The time to do this is now, while the stock is in a healthy state.”

The five costal states concerned include the European Union, the Faeroe Islands, Greenland, Iceland and Norway. In view of its blue whiting activities, the Russian Federation has been associated in the negotiations. Since 1997, international catches have trebled from 650,000 tonnes in the mid-1990s to over 2 million tonnes in 2003 (see graph (pdf ~ 48 Kb)). This must be contrasted with the unallocated total allowable catch (TAC) of 650,000 tonnes which the relevant Regional Fisheries Organisation, the North-East Atlantic Fisheries Commission (NEAFC), has been setting since 1994.

Many rounds of negotiations have taken place between the coastal states, so far to no avail. These negotiations form part of a twin-track approach whereby the five coastal states agree on catch restrictions to be applied in the waters under their responsibility. NEAFC subsequently establishes the necessary conservation measures for the part caught in international waters.

The disagreement essentially centres on the sharing of the total allowable catch as the total of the individual claims is well above 100% of this TAC. In the absence of agreement on shares, Parties have found themselves unable to agree on management measures for the blue whiting fishery.

Blue whiting is important to the EU as a number of Member States including Spain, Denmark, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Ireland, France, Germany, Portugal and to much lesser extent Sweden, exploit this fishery. Blue whiting also represents 40% of the EU contribution to annual exchanges of fishing possibilities for EU vessels in Norwegian waters.

The EU increased its share of the blue whiting fishery by 250,000 tonnes last year and has now decided to increase it by 350,000 tonnes for 2004. This will bring its share closer to the level of the 1990s. The EU has taken account of recent scientific advice in setting these catch limits. The biological state of the stock, which can display significant variations over short periods of time, has changed favourably in the past year or so and is at a historically high level. The EU increase is therefore sustainable in the short-term.

Only a long-term agreement on sharing fishing possibilities for blue whiting will provide a basis for the rational and sustainable management of this stock. The necessary negotiations should be pursued as soon as possible while the stock is in a relatively healthy state.