EU agrees to sanction Faroe Islands over herring catch

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EU member states have agreed to support sanctions against the Faroe Islands, including a possible import ban or closing its ports to its boats, to protest the islands' decision to triple the limit on herring fishing.

After political backing from diplomats representing the EU's 28 states on Wednesday (31 July), the measures require a final endorsement from the executive European Commission, which is expected over the coming weeks, a Commission spokesman said.

The move follows months of haggling after the Faroe Islands earlier this year unilaterally increased its existing quota by more than three times the allocations it would have got under EU policy, the Commission said.

In a commentary submitted to EURACTIV before the EU action, the islands' prime minister said any such move would hurt the economy and violate the spirit of the UN Convention on the Law of the Seas, which calls for peaceful mediation of coastal and ocean resource disputes.

"By attempting to force the Faroe Islands to undermine our national interests under threats of coercion, the EU is clearly acting in breach of its obligations under international law," Prime Minister Kaj Leo Holm Johannesen writes in the EURACTIV commentary.

"Such an approach will actually be instrumental in obstructing the cooperation necessary to reach a multilateral agreement," he wrote.

The Faroe Islands, a self-governed territory of Denmark and not part of the European Union, says the EU rules do not give it a sufficient share of the herring catch and that a higher quota is justified by an increase in the number of herring in its waters.

Throwback to cod wars

The dispute has drawn comparisons with the "cod wars" of the 1950s and 1970s between Britain and Iceland.

"Given the gravity of the situation and the lack of cooperation from the Faroese authorities, we had no option but to move ahead and take all necessary steps in ensuring a sustainable herring fishery managed in a joint manner by all coastal states concerned," EU Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki said in a statement.

Scientists have laid out the case for a 26% cut in overall catches of herring, which the Faroe Islands shares with the EU, Russia, Norway and Iceland.

The European Union agreed on 30 May to put an end to decades of over-fishing and rebuild dwindling stocks by 2020, as part of a deal to overhaul of fisheries policy.

The agreement will put an end to annual haggling over catch quotas by EU ministers in Brussels, widely blamed for putting short-term economic interests above the long-term health of Europe's fish stocks.

The reform will also see a massive reduction in the wasteful practice known as discarding, which sees European fishermen throw almost 2 million tonnes of unwanted fish back into the sea each year - often dead or dying - as they seek to fill strict quotas with the most valuable species.

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