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'Mackerel war' talks break down with Iceland

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'Mackerel war' talks break down with Iceland
Norwegian fisheries minister Elisabeth Aspaker with Portuguese food minister Nuno Vieira e Brito (and a large piece of salted cod). Photo: Norwegian Fisheries Ministry
15:52 CET+01:00
A last-ditch attempt to bridge the impasse over mackerel fishing rights in the North Sea and north Atlantic broke down on Wednesday, meaning there will be no agreement for the 2014 fishing season.
Norwegian fishing minister Elisabeth Aspaker claimed that Norway had offered significant compromises in order for the talks to continue, but had in the end not been able to accept a proposal agreed put forward by Iceland and the European Union. 
 
"I'm sorry that it was not possible to establish a coastal state agreement for 2014," Fisheries Minister said in a statement. "Norway has given a lot of ground in these negotiations, and it is difficult to understand why it has not been possible to find a balanced solution."
 
Icelandic Fishing Minister Sigurdur Ingi Johannsson put the blame squarely on Norway for the failure of the talks. 
 
"We had reached an understanding with (the) EU based on a sustainable utilisation of the stock," Johannsson said. "Unfortunately, Norway was not willing to negotiate on that basis and
insisted on a fishing level far above the ICES (International Council for the Exploration of the Sea) advice."
 
"It is evident that the opportunity to reach an agreement for the 2014 fishing season has slipped away," the Icelandic Ministry of Fisheries said in a statement.
 
The fishing dispute burst out in 2009 when Iceland - at the time badly hit financially by the implosion of its major banks during the financial crisis - massively increased the number of mackerel its fishermen were allowed to catch.  The country's fishing fleet caught 154,320 tonnes of the fish in 2013, more than four times the 36,518 tonnes it had caught in 2007. 
 
Iceland and its allies the Faroe Islands, argue that they are justified in increasing their quotas as mackerel stocks have surged around their islands as the fish migrate northwards due to global warming. 
 
The European Union has responded with sanctions against the Faroe Islands for overfishing herring, banning import of both mackerel and herring from the archipelago, and forbidding some of its fishing boats from docking in EU ports. But Iceland has so far suffered no sanctions. 
 
Talks in Edinburgh broke down on Wednesday night, after running into an unscheduled third day.  As in previous years, Oslo must now take its case to Brussels. 
 
Richard Lochhead, Scotland's Fisheries Secretary, said the failure to secure a deal was "very disappointing". 
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