The European Union will block landings of mackerel from Icelandic boats at EU ports in a dispute over fishing quotas, a European Commission spokesman has revealed.
The EU executive has notified the European Economic Area of the action, the final step before enforcing it. The EEA groups the 27 EU member states along with Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein.
"We have informed the EEA joint committee that we will implement the landing bans without further delay," Commission spokesman for fisheries Oliver Drewes told Reuters on Friday (14 January).
Iceland's decision to raise its mackerel fishing quota last year has brought it into conflict with the UK, Ireland and Norway and is threatening the country's bid to join the EU.
It was not immediately clear how the ban would deal with issues such as ships carrying mixed catches or imports of processed fish.
Home to just 320,000 people but a major power in Atlantic fishing, Iceland began EU membership talks in June in the hope of greater stability and financial security after the collapse of its banking system in 2008.
But the island has also sought to benefit from a surge in mackerel stocks in its waters – an apparent consequence of warmer sea temperatures.
Talks with the EU broke down last summer and Iceland unilaterally increased the amount of mackerel its boats could catch to 130,000 tonnes, compared to a traditional catch which the Union estimates at 2,000 tonnes.
It has prompted comparisons with the 'cod wars' of the 1950s and 1970s, when Iceland and Britain deployed naval forces in rows over fishing quotas.
Iceland says more than a million tonnes of mackerel – a quarter of the stock – migrated into its economic zone during the five-month summer feeding season. It plans to maintain this year's 17% share of the north Atlantic catch in 2011.
It criticised the EU and Norway last month for failing to take this into account when they jointly decided to catch 583,882 tonnes of mackerel in 2011, the majority of the amount scientists say is ecologically safe to catch.
(EURACTIV with Reuters.)