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Iceland cuts mackerel quota but fails to meet EU demands

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Icelandic officials said Monday that the country would cut its controversial mackerel fishing quota by 15 percent, but the EU nonetheless criticized the decision, saying the amount of fish to be taken remained "excessively high."

Reykjavik and the EU are at odds over fishing rights, with a "mackerel war" heating up in late 2010 after Iceland unilaterally multiplied its catch quota.

"Iceland has now decided to lower the quota by 15 percent, which is in accordance with ICES' (International Council for the Exploration of the Sea) recommendation," said Arni Thor Sigurdsson, chairman of the parliament's foreign affairs committee.

But the move was dismissed by the EU as merely covering up an amount that was much too high to begin with.

"Iceland awards itself almost a quarter (23 percent) of the entire scientifically justified quota for the North Atlantic mackerel stock, from a zero level a few years ago," Oliver Drewes, a spokesman for the EU Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, Maria Damanaki, said in a statement.

"This leaves the 10 or more other fishing nations to share the remainder, therefore Iceland's mackerel fisheries is still unsustainable and ignores the health of the mackerel fish stock," he added.

Iceland is in the process of negotiating its EU membership. It has opened 27 chapters with Brussels since negotiations began in July 2010, and has wrapped up 11 of them.

But the thorny chapters of agriculture and fishing, a major source of revenue for the North Atlantic island, have yet to start.

Last month the government said it was putting the brakes on membership talks so the issue would not interfere with April's legislative elections.

Iceland applied to join the bloc in 2009 in the wake of a banking and economic meltdown a year earlier.

At the time, Icelanders were largely in favour of joining the EU and the eurozone as they saw the value of their currency halved and many perceived the euro as a safe haven in stormy times.

But support has plummeted as Iceland's economy has broadly recovered while the eurozone crisis dragged on, and due to a dispute with Britain and the Netherlands over the failed bank Icesave.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130204/iceland-cuts-mackerel-quota-fails-meet-eu-demands