Faroe Islands face EU sanctions over mackerel quota

Denmark may have to block mackerel imports from the Faroe Islands after the island territory refused to bring down its massive mackerel quotas

The Faroe Islands could face EU sanctions unless it agrees to negotiate its quota for fishing mackerel in the North Atlantic.

Fishing quotas in the North Atlantic are normally negotiated between the EU and the non-EU countries that share the fishing grounds, including Russia, Norway, Iceland and the Faroe Islands.

A conflict began in 2010 when the Faroe Islands and Iceland unilaterally increased their quotas for mackerel from 85,000 to 150,000 tonnes and from 2,000 to 130,000 tonnes respectively.

Scientists have set the maximum sustainable catch for North Atlantic mackerel at 540,000 tonnes, but if the EU and Norway land their combined maximum catch of around 490,000 tonnes, the total could reach around 770,000 tonnes this year.

Iceland and the Faroe Islands justified increasing their quotas because significant numbers of mackerel have moved into their waters in recent years. Their high unilateral quotas have faced stiff criticism from EU members, particularly the UK and Ireland, which argue that the Nordic states are undermining the shared stock of North Atlantic mackerel.

EU negotiations failed in 2012, but now the EU is threatening to introduce sanctions that will prevent the Faroe Islands and Iceland from exporting mackerel to the EU or from docking their fishing vessels in EU harbours. If the sanctions are introduced, Denmark would be placed in the awkward position of having to punish the Faroe Islands, a member of the Kingdom of Denmark.

”It would be a very unfortunate situation for Denmark to be in,” the agriculture minister, Mette Gjerskov (Socialdemokraterne), told Ritzau. “We are not interested in having sanctions levelled at one of the members of the Kingdom of Denmark.”

The sanctions, which are meant to encourage the two countries to rejoin negotiations, would have a devastating impact on the Faroe Islands, which channels much of its mackerel through Denmark.

But the Faroe Islands' fisheries minister, Jacob Vestergaard, said the islands would cope.

“The situation will present us with challenges but the world outside the EU is large,” Vestergaard told Ritzau. “We believe that we have the right to fish the mackerel which are in Faroese waters and no-one should decide for us.”

EU fisheries ministers met yesterday and following the meeting, the EU fishery commissioner, Maria Damanaki, expressed concern over the high quotas set by Iceland and the Faroe Islands.

”We cannot permit unilateral actions that can destroy the stocks,” she said according to the Irish Times. “We cannot wait until next year; we have to take action now. But about our concrete actions and what we’re going to do, more information will be provided by the end of this month.”

The EU has now started negotiating quotas for North Atlantic herring, which Gjerskov said could be an opportunity for the sides to reconcile.