After successfully claiming a larger share of the Northeast Atlantic mackerel catch quota, the Faroe Islands has gained a stronger footing in international fisheries cooperation, according to Minister of Fisheries Jacob Vestergaard.
Only the Faroe Islands has such an abundant combination of mackerel, herring and blue whiting in its waters, and thus the country has a key position in all of these three commercially important fisheries, according to Minister of Fisheries Jacob Vestergaard. As Mr. Vestergaard points out, however, it took time and effort to achieve this position, which implies multilateral recognition of the underlying biological facts.
For a start, it took years for the Faroese to realize that their share of the catch of Northeast Atlantic mackerel had been unfairly low relative to the abundance of the species in Faroese waters. Under the international management of the Northeast Atlantic Fisheries Commission, the earlier arrangement among the signatory parties had allotted 4.62 percent of the total catch quota to the Faroe Islands — an arrangement that had been in place for many years and had more or less been quietly accepted by the Faroese.
Until recently, that is. As the volumes of mackerel found in Faroese waters only seemed to increase while at the same time the species was seen dwelling there for longer and longer periods of time each year, Faroese fishermen began to take notice and acquainted authorities and scientists of their observations.
The situation came to a head at NEAFC talks as the Faroese laid claim to a significant raise in their share of the jointly managed mackerel catch, coinciding with Iceland — a newcomer in that particular fishery — demanding an even more dramatic raise on their part.
The European Union and Norway responded with punitive sanctions, perhaps in the belief that the sparsely populated island nations would ultimately have no choice but to accept some deal that offered no serious change to the status quo.
The ‘mackerel wars’ and later ‘herring wars’ that ensued saw the Faroe Islands and Iceland blocked from landing or exporting any of the species, and later other fish species too, to the EU or Norway for more than a year, in a deadlock that could have lasted even longer and might have threatened the very livelihoods of the islanders as the huge EU market was shut in their face.
Legitimate top claimants
With a good portion of courage coupled with creativity, trade challenges were met nonetheless through reaching out to buyers in other parts of the world — as markets like China, Russia and the U.S., to name a few, gained new prominence to offset the EU blockade.
The issue of herring, by similar logic to what had fueled the controversy over mackerel, also became part of the standoff. In that case, however, Iceland soon succeeded in negotiating a deal that saw the Faroe Islands left out of the then existing agreement. By early 2014, Faroe together with the EU and Norway reached an agreement on mackerel that gave the Faroese a 12.6 percent share of the jointly managed mackerel catch. The row over herring ended a few months later.
Norway, the main claimant on herring, on the other hand, has terminated the previously existing agreement on the species, demanding a much higher share of the overall catch. As for blue whiting, while the scientists have significantly raised the recommended catch limit, a new agreement is yet to be signed. In any case, the traditionally large Faroese claim on this species has generally not been contested.
The Faroese — acting with independence to demonstrate the viability of their claims on mackerel and herring in their waters — clearly adopted a sound strategy. With the row over these species effectively gone, the country appears to have earned the respect of its counterparts.
“The harsh response that we initially received only served to strengthen our resolve to prove our point,” Mr. Vestergaard noted. “We were excluded from the joint agreement and had to set our own national quota, which we did responsibly and according to what it would have looked like with the desired percentage of the total allowable catch as recommended by ICES. We went on to fish that tonnage in our own waters and bring it to market while documenting every load of catch landed. Our industry and scientists rose to the challenge and before long we could present irrefutable evidence of the abundance of the species in our waters, proving that our claims were not empty but based on verifiable facts. Today we are recognized as counted among the legitimate top claimants to three major pelagic species — mackerel, herring, and blue whiting. That’s a strong position.”