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EU Norway Talks Break down amidst dissent in Norwegian Delegation
The much postponed EU Norway talks for a fisheries agreement for 2014 began in Bergen on Monday 10th February - and broke down on Friday 14th without agreement. The talks were adjourned when Norwegian head of delegation asked for a suspension of the talks as there were split views within the Norwegian camp which couldn’t be resolved quickly.
The bilateral talks have become the latest casualty in the bitter and prolonged dispute about the terms under which Iceland and Faeroes should be allowed to fish for mackerel. Although there is now reportedly only a very small gap between the coastal state parties on quota shares (something less than 1% separates them), Norwegian insistence on a block on Icelandic access to Faroese waters has provided a substantial 11th hour obstacle in the Coastal States negotiations. In these complex and interlinked negotiations this blockage has knock-on effects for the EU Norway agreement in setting TACs, agreeing shares and access arrangements for blue whiting, atlanto-scandian herring, and ultimately for North Sea whitefish shared stocks and North East Arctic cod - all fisheries in which the UK has a major interest.
Deal Now or Later
Towards the end of the week, member state representatives were faced with a stark choice: either work through the night towards a partial reciprocal agreement, with a conditional element linked to later agreement on the blue whiting and mackerel TACs; or break off the talks to see if progress could be made within Coastal States negotiations on the mackerel and blue whiting issues. In the event, the question was taken out of their hands when the Norwegians announced that the talks were suspended.
Aside from the high drama on the international stage over mackerel, some progress seems to have been made quietly in the background on the North Sea joint stocks. In these negotiations nothing is agreed until everything is agreed but at present the outcomes on these stocks looks like the following:
• North Sea Cod TAC rollover from 2013 level, with a further request to ICES to evaluate whether a 10% increase in the TAC is precautionary which if positive could lead to a mid-year increase. The UK and Denmark are pressing very hard for an increase on the basis that it would reduce discards of mature cod and is consistent with meeting MSY target by 2015 but there is a strong suspicion that resistance comes from Commissioner Damanaki for misplaced media/presentational reasons
• North Sea Haddock -15% in line with the agreed management plan. The UK is pressing for this to be mitigated by transfers from Norway which would be paid for in the balance and for inter annual flexibility and some West to East flexibility
• Whiting -15% in line with the agreed management plan, possibly mitigated by transfers
• Saithe -15% in line with the management plan
• Plaice + 15% in line with the management plan
• North Sea Herring -2% with a new management plan from 2016
Where to from here?
We are in uncharted waters. Although it is not unknown for the EU /Norway talks to face breakdowns and interruptions, it is unprecedented for their start to be delayed until February of the following year; to be still facing serious obstacles; and with no date for resumption; and the given reason for the breakdown disagreement in the Norwegian camp. (The EU is usually the party which faces difficulties in coordinating its position, given the diversity of fisheries in its member states).
We can only hope for an early resumption of the talks with a keener understanding amongst the parties of the widespread damage for many fishermen for as long as there is no reciprocal agreement.