Herring loss sparks EU-Faroe Island trade spat

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The Faroe Islands government has reacted furiously to an EU decision to ban its fish exports to the Union. While the EU accuses the Faroes of overfishing, the small archipelago, which has Danish sovereignty, is threatening to jeopardise multilateral negotiations on herring quota allocations.

The Faroe government condemned the Commission decision to ban the import of herring and mackerel caught by Faroese vessels, as well as all fishery products containing or made of such fish.

The EU measures adopted yesterday (20 August), which will soon enter into force, also include restrictions on the use of EU ports by Faroe Island vessels fishing for herring and mackerel. This means that some Faroese vessels will not be allowed to dock in EU ports, except in cases of emergency.

The EU believes that the Faroe Islands allowed themselves a 229% increase in their herring quota in the North-East Atlantic, breaching a quota agreement reached in a North-East Atlantic Coastal States forum. The  forum's members – Norway, Russia, Iceland, the Faroe Islands and the EU, – have jointly managed the Atlanto-Scandian herring stock until this year.

European Commission spokesperson Patrizio Fiorilli said that the EU executive had several times asked the Faroe Islands for an explanation.

“The blunt truth is that we never got anything back from the Faroe authorities,” Fiorilli said, adding that this was why the Commission decided to adopt the measures.

The Prime Minister of the Faroe Islands, Kaj Leo Holm Johannesen, slammed the decision as an “unacceptable abuse of power by the EU”, describing it as a “contravention” of the EU’s international obligation to cooperate on the management of shared fish stocks.

“These measures will seriously undermine efforts to reach a joint management arrangement for the herring, which is necessary,” Johannesen said, adding that his government was now considering international dispute settlement mechanisms.  

“It is short-sighted and ill-considered of the EU to take such an unjustifiable step against one of its nearest European neighbours and partners. The Faroe Islands may be small, but we are strategically placed as an important stakeholder in shared pelagic fish stocks in the Northeast Atlantic. It is difficult to see what purpose these measures serve other than to protect fishing industry interests within the EU,“ he stated.

Johannesen also indicated that as part of the retaliation, multilateral negotiations on fishing quotas would be compromised.

“A meeting between coastal states on the herring has been scheduled for early September. However, the EU’s plans [… ] will seriously compromise the spirit of mutual respect and cooperation which is crucial to ensuring that real progress can be made through balanced and constructive consultations,” he said.

The Faroe Islands row adds to EU frictions with Iceland, which recently unilaterally increased its mackerel quota, saying that the move was justified after the fish began migrating further North as a result of warming seas. [more]

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 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 wasteful practices  such as discarding, in which European fishermen throw almost 2 million tonnes of unwanted - often dead or dying - fish back into the sea each year as they seek to fill strict quotas for the most valuable species.

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