EU imposes sanctions on Faroe Islands

Sanctions will prevent the Faroe Islands from exporting mackerel or herring to the EU in retaliation for the self-governing territory’s unilateral decision to increase its fishing quotas

The European Commission voted yesterday to implement sanctions against the Faroe Islands because of its decision to set independent fishing quotas for mackerel that are far higher than the EU recommendations.

The sanctions will mean that Faroe Island fishermen will not be allowed to land mackerel or herring in EU harbours, or export fish landed in the Faroe Islands to the EU.

Denmark voted against the European Commission (EC) proposal but will have to comply with the vote, much to the disappointment of the agriculture minister, Mette Gjerskov (Socialdemokraterne).

“It is disappointing that the EU has taken this drastic step against the Faroe Islands,” Gjerskov stated in a press release. “It is a small society that relies heavily on its fisheries. From the Danish point of view, we think the opportunities to negotiate should have been used up before calling for sanctions. They were not.”

The EC backed down on its proposal to ban the export of fishing equipment to the Faroe Islands, a self-governing territory under the Danish crown, and the sanctions agreed upon on Wednesday will only be implemented after the technical details have been drawn up.

According to Gjerskov, Denmark has been trying to restart negotiations over fishing quotas in order to avoid the sanctions.

“We have done so because we highly value the Danish Commonwealth while also appreciating the need for sustainable fisheries,” Gjerskov stated, adding that negotiations about next year’s quotas are due to begin in September. “I think there is still a will to negotiate and that is why I think the EU is moving too quickly with sanctions.”

Fishing quotas for the North Atlantic are normally agreed upon between the EU and non-EU states bordering the North Atlantic, including Russia, Norway and Iceland.

But in January, a request from the Faroe Islands to increase its share of the quota was rejected, leading the self-governing territory to triple its own share of the quota to 17 percent of the maximum recommended catch of herring.

The Faroe Islands' prime minister, Kaj Leo Johannesen, hit back at the EU after Wednesday's vote, stating that the Faroe Islands had repeatedly called to reopen negotiations and it had been left out of the last negotiations after its request to increase its quota was ignored.

“We have been witness in recent years to a marked increase in the abundance of herring in Faroese waters, also for longer periods,” Johannesen wrote in a statement published on the EU news website Euractiv.

After being excluded in January, the Faroe Islands set its own quota based on its perceived entitlement to a larger share. 

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

He added that the EC’s decision is an attempt to coerce the Faroe Islands into accepting a deal it does not agree with, arguing that this is a violation of international law that demands that states peacefully resolve conflicts.