Iceland lowers mackerel quota in spat with EU

STOCKHOLM Sun Feb 3, 2013 1:15pm EST

STOCKHOLM Feb 3 (Reuters) - Iceland has lowered its mackerel quota in a move that could ease the risk of the European Union barring Icelandic fishermen from its ports in a row over mackerel fishing.

Iceland's industry ministry said the north Atlantic island would fish 15 percent less mackerel this year than in 2012, taking the catch to 123,182 tons, to help assure sustainability of the stock.

"We are willing to further reduce our catch if other coastal states agree to do so as well," Industry Minster Steingrimur Sigfusson said in a statement posted on the ministry's website on Saturday. "I hope the coastal states will return to the negotiating table with us to discuss concrete proposals."

Iceland in 2011 sharply boosted its annual mackerel quota to 146,000 tonnes, compared with just 2,000 tonnes two years earlier. It has said the increased quotas were justified by an explosion in mackerel stocks in its waters, after the fish began migrating further northwards as a result of warming seas.

In a dispute that has drawn comparisons to the "cod wars" of the 1950s and 1970s, the EU in September passed a law that allows it to limit or ban imports of fish from countries "engaged in unsustainable practices in the management of fish resources they share with the EU".

The EU, Norway, Iceland and the Faroe Islands - the coastal states - jointly manage the northeast Atlantic mackerel fishery.

The row has risked undermining Iceland's application to join the EU, made after its bank system and economy collapsed in 2008. In January Iceland all but shelved the accession talks amid widespread EU scepticism among the 320,000 Icelanders, ahead of a parliamentary vote in April.

The ministry said Iceland's share of the mackerel catch by the coastal states and Russia was about 16 percent in 2012.

(Reporting via Stockholm newsroom)

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