EU’s measures over Faroe Islands fishing are counterproductive

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

The EU will decide whether to adopt coercive economic measures against the Faroe Islands, over a dispute on the quota allocation of herring. Not only does the proposed EU action contravene the UN's Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), it is also based on inaccurate allegations and is counterproductive to a reaching a negotiated solution, writes Kaj Leo Holm Johannesen.

Kaj Leo Holm Johannesen is the prime minister of the Faroe Islands, a self-governing region of Denmark.

"Underpinning the Commission’s proposal to implement economic measures against the Faroe Islands is the assertion by European Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki that the Faroe Islands have “left the negotiation table” on Atlanto-Scandian herring.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The Faroese government has been repeatedly calling for negotiations between all coastal states to discuss a revision of the sharing arrangement for this important and very valuable shared fish stock in the Northeast Atlantic.

Multilateral management of shared fish stocks should always be based on the best available scientific information on the size and behaviour of the stock. We have been witness in recent years to a marked increase in abundance of herring in Faroese waters, also for longer periods.

Assessments by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) in 2011 and 2012 confirm these new trends and the increased dependency of the herring on maritime areas within Faroese jurisdiction.

This is what prompted the call from the Faroe Islands, both in 2011 and 2012, to negotiate a revision of the allocation key. So far, the other coastal States (Norway, Iceland, the Russian Federation and EU) have not been willing to discuss the issue.

Indeed, Faroese calls have been flatly ignored. Instead the other four coastal states agreed in January on the total allowable catch (TAC) and quota allocation for 2013, deliberately excluding the Faroe Islands from that arrangement.

As a result, the government of the Faroes took the only responsible course of action and set a catch limit for 2013 for herring fisheries under Faroese jurisdiction, based on the TAC recommended by ICES and reflecting our entitlement to a larger share.

Contrary to claims by the EU, it is not the Faroese herring quota for 2013 which is putting the stock at risk. It is the lack of an inclusive five-party agreement on allocation of this shared stock which jeopardies its sustainability.

This is a situation the Faroe Islands wish to see rectified jointly with the other coastal states as soon as possible.

Agreement on a new sharing arrangement must be concluded within the framework of the agreed long-term management plan for the Atlanto-Scandian herring, to which the Faroe Islands continue to adhere.

The first allocation key for Atlanto-Scandian herring was originally agreed for 1996 between the Faroe Islands, Norway, Iceland and the Russian Federation.

Despite the virtual absence of Atlanto-Scandian herring in EU waters, the EU became a party to the arrangement, after having set itself a unilateral quota of 150,000 tonnes in 1996, which it could only effectively fish in international waters.

The allocation key was modified again in 2007, after four years without an agreed arrangement, due to Norway’s demands that its share was increased.

In contrast, the Faroese share has remained by far the smallest all these years at just over 5%. This by no means reflects the occurrence of Atlanto-Scandian herring in Faroese waters today, nor the long-standing dependency of the Faroe Islands on fisheries.

Both the Faroese and Danish governments have underlined to the Commission that all options for renegotiating an equitable allocation of the Atlanto-Scandian herring have far from been exhausted. The Faroe Islands have also repeatedly pointed out that we remain ready and willing to resume consultations with the other parties as soon as possible.

We are seeking the opportunity to present a reasoned and justified claim for an increased Faroese share of the Atlanto-Scandian herring stock to be discussed in the appropriate multilateral context.

But all this seems to have fallen on deaf ears in Brussels. The relentless determination to implement measures against the Faroes is being rushed through the EU system with an absolute minimum of time for EU member states to scrutinise and discuss the political rationale and factual details of the proposal.

A meeting between the five coastal States has now been scheduled for 2 and 3 September in London. Regardless of this, the Commission has chosen to proceed with its proposal for measures against the Faroe Islands, aiming for its adoption by the Committee on Fisheries and Aquaculture on 31 July.

The September meeting should in fact provide the opportunity necessary to get negotiations back on track. However, this could be seriously undermined with the adoption of the Commission’s proposal and implementation of economic measures against the Faroe Islands.

The EU’s demand for a suspension of the Faroese 2013 herring quota as a precondition for multilateral consultations is unacceptable, and also calls into serious question the very basis for further negotiations, to which the Faroe Islands remain firmly committed.

Consistent with international law, States shall seek to resolve disputes by peaceful means. In the case of shared fish stocks, states shall seek to agree upon the measures necessary to coordinate and ensure their conservation and development.

This obligation cannot, however, be interpreted to mean that one of the relevant coastal states can impose on others a management arrangement, including allocation, which it alone considers to be equitable.

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

The government of the Faroes is firmly committed to pursuing multilateral negotiations between all five coastal States to reach agreement on a joint management arrangement, including a revised allocation, for the Atlanto-Scandian herring.

The EU is urged to use its considerable powers to help  find a rational, negotiated and multilateral solution, rather than abusing those same powers to the detriment of one of its closest and smallest European partners."

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