Denmark supports Faroe Islands in appeal against EU fishing sanctions

The Faroe Islands accuses the EU of needlessly aggravating the conflict over fishing quotas

Denmark has given the Faroe Islands permission to appeal EU sanctions that were placed on the island territory due to a rift over fishing quotas.

Fishing quotas in the North Atlantic are normally negotiated between the EU and other bordering countries such as Russia, Norway, Iceland and the Faroe Islands, but the Faroe Islands demanded a higher share of the total recommended catch due to the increasing numbers of fish being found in Faroese waters.

After that was rejected, the Faroe Islands unilaterally increased its share to 17 percent of the total catch in March, leading to the EU banning herring and mackerel imports from the Faroe Islands as well as permission for Faroese fishing boats to dock in EU ports.

The Faroe Islands is appealing against the decision and argues that the EU broke the UN convention on the seas, UNCLOS, when it imposed sanctions before using all possible opportunities to resolve the conflict in ways that do not aggravate the problem.

Given that there is a planned meeting this September in which coastal states are expected to discuss fish stocks and where the Faroe Islands wants a new deal to be agreed that better reflects the herring population in Faroese waters, the Faroe Islands argues that the sanctions needlessly aggravate the conflict.

“Consultations between all five coastal states need to continue in earnest if we are going to find a joint agreement on the allocation of the herring,” Faroe Islands' PM, Kaj Leo Holm Johannesen, stated in a press release. “The EU’s intention to impose unilateral coercive economic measures against the Faroe Islands has already compromised the spirit of mutual respect and co-operation which is crucial to ensuring that real progress can be made on joint management of this valuable shared fish stock. If the EU actually implements such measures, the basis for balanced multilateral negotiations will clearly be called into serious question.”

The sanctions place Denmark in an awkward position. Denmark is a member of the EU but the Faroe Islands, which is a member of the Danish Commonwealth, is not. This means that Denmark will have to enforce the sanctions against a member of its own commonwealth that would be a serious blow to a territory that depends on fishing for 90 percent of its exports.

But Lars Bracht Andersen, an expert in EU law form the University of Aarhus, argues that the Faroes may have a had time winning the case against sanctions.

“It is not a basic human right that the goods one produces should be allowed to be exported to foreign countries,” Andersen told Politiken newspaper. “The EU is not going to send war ships and block the Faroe Islands' fishing fleet. The EU is simply saying that they won’t be able to unload their fish here.”

Andersen added, however, that the Faroe Islands may win the complaint based on the allegation that the EU did not use up all its opportunities to negotiate, as they are compelled to under UNCLOS, before resorting to coercive measures.