Coastal states negotiations on pelagic stocks in Oslo last week seemed likely to conclude without any breakthrough on quota shares. Meanwhile, the blue whiting season was drawing to an end, with the Norwegian industry landing 8,000t last week.

The talks were billed by some as a ‘last chance’ in the bid to break the deadlock on the three pelagic stocks – mackerel, blue whiting and Atlanto-Scandian herring – where states continue to issue themselves quotas in excess of those recommended by scientists.

However, Ian Gatt, speaking on behalf of the Scottish Pelagic Fishermen’s Association, who was in Oslo for the talks, told FN that given the political backdrop, painting these talks in such a way was highly inaccurate. “We’ve got EU and UK elections taking place, and a new Norwegian minister has just taken the helm. Given the wider political dimension, it was never likely that compromises on quota shares would be considered at this meeting.”

The discussions come after the independent Sustainable Fisheries Partnership published the second part of its evaluation of industrial fisheries worldwide. This downgraded the status of the blue whiting fishery, from B1 to C – the lowest of any industrial fishery it assessed.

The stocks, the report says, ‘continue to face persistent management issues and are in a worse condition than in 2022, due to ineffective or deficient management systems’.

The North Atlantic Pelagic Advocacy Group (NAPA), comprising major fish processors and aquaculture businesses reliant on fishmeal produced from blue whiting, also weighed in ahead of the meeting, sending an open letter to the Norwegian government asking it ‘to meet with fish feed producers and reflect seriously upon its own sustainability commitments’.

NAPA said there is a real danger that its members will no longer be able to buy or process blue whiting from the fishery if a TAC within scientific recommendations is not agreed by October. This is the deadline for the current Fisheries Improvement Project – crucial for many buyers who have binding commitments to only source raw materials from approved fisheries, or ones undertaking FIPs.

The letter underlined the importance of reaching a deal between coastal states, saying: “In 2021, NAPA launched a new class of FIP – designed to drive progress towards a political agreement for key pelagic stocks. As NAPA members, this means we can continue our sourcing of this vital stock at this time, as we continue to urge coastal states to come to a sustainable, science-based sharing agreement for all pelagics.

“The blue whiting FIP is due to end in October: just a few short months away. With no resolution to the political deadlock around blue whiting management in sight, the future of the fish feed industry hangs in the balance in the waters off Norway’s coast.

“We understand the complexities of the situation. We know the challenge presented by the political deadlock. We believe that a nation like Norway, world-leading in salmon production and at the forefront of ocean advocacy globally, should be an ally – not a target – in our own advocacy efforts.”

Ian Gatt told FN that it beggared belief that NAPA was taking such an approach. “The blue whiting stock is at an all- time high, with a significant quota increase recommended by scientists after the recruitment of two strong year-classes in a row to the stock.

“All the indications are there to suggest a further strong year- class coming into the fishery next year, which will further safeguard the stock.

“It is really regrettable that a deal can’t be reached, but there is no need for a panic over a stock that clearly is doing so well. Without question, all parties need to reflect on the failure of this round of talks, and reconvene in the autumn, with a view to making a deal for 2025.

“But we need to inject a note of reality here. No one is ignoring the Fisheries Improvement Plan in place, or the need for a deal, but any difficulties that NAPA has reflects its own internal systems, which appear to advocate delisting of a stock when it is at an all-time high.”

On the separate issue of a potential repeat of last year’s agreement between Norway and the UK that gave the Norwegian mackerel fleet access to UK waters, in exchange for mackerel quota, Ian Gatt said that talks were ‘ongoing’.

This story was taken from the latest issue of Fishing News. For more up-to-date and in-depth reports on the UK and Irish commercial fishing sector, subscribe to Fishing News here or buy the latest single issue for just £3.30 here

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