Monday May 29, 2017

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My quota for a boat

Mackerel fishing flounders on vessel charter rule

A rule intended to secure Greenland as large a share of the North Atlantic mackerel catch as possible in the long term is a short-term disaster for small firms, the industry says
Greenland roll (Photo: Ludvig Hansen)

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On May 31, six Greenlandic firms were chosen in a random drawing to take part in this year’s mackerel-fishing season. Each of the firms was granted a 5,000-tonne quota, equalling a third of the 85,000 tonnes of mackerel fishing officials allowed to be caught during the country’s sixth year of experimental fishery of the species.

Mackerel is one of Europe’s most valuable fish stocks, and with fishermen required to pay a per-kilo fee of 1.5 kroner ($0.23) to national authorities, a fully fished quota would be a potential windfall for both the treasury and the firms operating the vessels.

As it turns out, only two companies that won a quota actually took part. The lottery was only open to firms that did not own their own fishing vessel. Having a system with different categories is intended as a way to permit smaller fishing firms to fish for a species that has only recently appeared in Greenlandic waters, without having to invest in their own trawler.

SEE RELATED: The ones that won’t get away

For such firms, winning the lottery is just the first hurdle. After being awarded a quota, the race is on to secure a vessel before the season begins in June.

“Foreign ship owners with ships that could be used in Greenland are booked by March. Once May and June roll around, it’s too late to shift them from fishing in the waters off western Africa, for example,” says Ture Korsager, of Atlantic Shipping, a Copenhagen-based charter agent that previously has helped quota-holders secure trawlers.

In addition to the late notification date, two other factors also likely influenced the firms' decision not to fish, reckons Mr Korsager.

Firstly, Naalakkersuisut, the elected government, hiked the fee fishermen must pay for each kilogram of caught this year by more than 50%.

SEE RELATED: Fishing, it’s not just an industry, it’s our lifeblood

Secondly, a rule change imposed several years ago vastly reduces the number of vessels available for charter by allowing only those from countries belonging to the North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission, a fisheries management body. The requirement now rules out vessels from China, for example.

If Greenland is to hope to have enough vessels in the water to be able to fish up the entire amount it sets aside, the lottery needs to be held no later than March, Mr Korsager believes. A lower fee and a loosening of restrictions on where ships can come from would also help, he says.

“There are any number of ships that are available, but they are flagged in non-NEAFC countries. That means they can’t be used and places a considerable limitation on local companies that need to charter vessels.”

Another option could be for firms to buy their own vessels, but given that the season only lasts until early September, coupled with the increased fee, doing so, he aruges, is “unrealistic”.

SEE RELATED: Mackerel deal takes “revenge” against Iceland

Concern about the effect that limiting vessels to NEAFC countries would have on mackerel fishing has been voiced by a number of prominent voices in the in the industry, including, on July 29, by Henrik Leth, the chairman of Polar Seafood, one of the country’s largest firms.

Fisheries officials defend the rule, noting that it has been put into place to ensure Greenland’s negotiating position when it formally enters into the regional mackerel-fisheries agreement. Currently, Greenland operates outside the quota system, but it will use the results of its experimental fishery to gain as large a share of the available catch as possible when it eventually does join.

A joint statement from the fisheries and commerce ministers confirmed that limiting where vessels was long-term consideration.

“The members (of NEAFC, ed) keep a close eye on what is happening in each other’s waters. It is the opinion of Naalakkersuisut that using fishing vessels from flag countries that have not ratified conventions against illegal fishing would not be beneficial to Greenland’s position when it comes time to negotiate a permanent share of the mackerel catch,” the ministers wrote.