Herring fish

The EU and the Faroe Islands have ended the dispute on herring overfishing

A dispute between the European Union and the Faroe Islands over herring has been resolved.

Maria Damanaki, the European Commissioner for maritime affairs and fisheries, announced a deal had been struck on 11 June to end a dispute over quota shares of herring in the northeast Atlantic.

The unilateral adoption last year by the Faroes of what the EC called “disproportionate catch limits” for herring, and a previous increase in mackerel catches in 2010, prompted the imposition of an EU-wide import ban on the two Faroese-caught species in August 2013.

“I am confident we can now use this opportunity to start afresh with a new focus on improving our trade relations”

Kaj Leo Holm Johannesen

The EU regulation that accompanied the ban identified the Faroe Islands as “a country allowing non-sustainable fishing of the Atlanto-Scandian herring stock”, after it abandoned a joint fisheries management agreement alongside the EU, Norway, Russia and Iceland and more than trebled its previously agreed quota share.

The Faroes lodged a complaint about the EU sanctions with the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in January. A deal was brokered in March to resolve the mackerel dispute by putting in place fixed quota arrangements, but the dispute over herring quotas had rumbled on until a breakthrough in negotiations this week.

Damanaki spoke on Wednesday (11 June) of her “great pleasure” at reaching an agreement at “political level” over the dispute.

“According to the understanding that I reached with Faroese minister of fisheries, Jacob Vestergaard, the Faroe Islands will put an end to their unsustainable fishery of Atlanto-Scandian herring in the northeast Atlantic,” she said.

“On our side, the European Commission will take action to stop the trade restrictions we imposed on the Faroe Islands in August 2013 in reaction to the unsustainable management of stocks.”

Both sides will now finalise the details of the agreement, which will also see the Faroe Islands bring their WTO complaint to a close.

Resolution welcomed

Faroe Islands prime minister Kaj Leo Holm Johannesen claimed the import ban had been “inconsistent with international law”, but welcomed a resolution to the dispute.

“The Faroe Islands and the EU are partners in many important areas, and I am confident we can now use this opportunity to start afresh with a new focus on improving our trade relations and enhancing co-operation in many other areas as well,” he said.

The agreement was also welcomed by Seafish. A spokesman warned that fish “did not respect geographical boundaries” and urged nations to co-operate to “jointly implement effective management regimes”. 

However, Scottish fishermen expressed caution at the deal, with Ian Gatt, chief executive of the Scottish Pelagic Fishermen’s Association, warning the Faroese should not be rewarded for their unsustainable fishing practices.

“This year the scientific advice states that 419,000 tonnes can be caught amongst all the coastal states, which would give the Faroes a share of 21,500 tonnes,” he said.

“If they set themselves a quota higher than this, then clearly the European Commission will have made a huge mistake in removing its sanctions lever. If this does happen, then we will be strongly pressing the Scottish and UK governments not to support this proposal.”