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Cod, Mackerel, and the EU

December 15, 2010

Like the Common Agriculture Policy, the Common Fisheries Policy is one of the cornerstones of the EU, as EU and member state officials work to quotas on fish hauls by fishermen across the EU.  Commercial fishing is the classic “tragedy of the commons,” as it makes sense for individual fishing boats to catch as many fish as possible in order to maximize profit, even though the result would be a collapse of the fishery for everyone.  As a result, it is not surprising that despite the fact that fishing makes up a small portion of the EU’s economy and employment, negotiations are rather contentious.  However, as the BBC reported today, it appears that negotiations have created a resolution, with 25 percent reductions in the quotas for cod, haddock and whiting.

In a related development, NPR ran a story this morning about the developing “Mackerel Wars” between the EU and Iceland.  (The BBC has additional information on this story as well).  Unfortunately, neither story really commented on how this issue could affect Iceland’s efforts to the join the EU.  Fishing is at the heart of the Icelandic economy, as fish and fish products account for about 40% of the country’s exports.  As a result, Iceland has been very protective of its fisheries and this has been one of the main reasons that while Iceland was one of the founding members of the European Free Trade Area (EFTA) and joined the Schengen Area, it has been hesitant to become a member of the EU.

This all changed with the collapse of the Icelandic banking sector in 2008 when the country was forced to receive a bailout from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).  After the bailout, the Icelandic Parliament voted to begin accession talks with the EU in July 2009.  Given that Iceland already belongs to the EFTA and Schengen, as well as being one of the most democratic countries in Europe, accession should be easy.  However, the Common Fishing Policy may be too much for the Icelandic people to stomach and a small fish may prevent Iceland from becoming the EU’s next member state.

**In an update to this story, Mackerel appear the main bone of contention between EU member states, especially the UK, and Iceland now.  The two sides have come to a deal on the Icelandic bank, Icesave, which Iceland was forced to take over last year and owes Dutch and British investors billions of euros.  The result is that Iceland will still have to slowly pay back the money, but it will no longer be as crippling as the original agreement, which was easily voted down by Icelandic voters in March. (

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