Fishing boat

An EU committee has approved trade sanctions on the Faroe Islands for alleged overfishing of herring

A diplomatic storm is brewing as the EU took a big step towards finalising trade sanctions against the Faroe Islands in retaliation for alleged overfishing of Atlanto-Scandian herring.

The Committee for Fisheries and Aquaculture yesterday gave a “favourable opinion” for a Commission proposal to adopt trade measures against the Faroe Islands.

It is understood the UK voted in favour of applying sanctions at yesterday’s meeting and the committee backed the proposal with a qualified majority.

The committee’s decision has been welcomed by EU fisheries commissioner Maria Damanaki. “Given the gravity of the situation and the lack of co-operation from the Faroese authorities, we had no option but to move ahead and take all necessary steps in ensuring a sustainable herring fishery managed in a joint manner by all coastal states concerned.”

“We had no option but to move ahead and take all necessary steps in ensuring a sustainable herring fishery managed in a joint manner by all coastal states concerned”

Maria Damanaki

The opinion is a significant move as it is the precursor to the Commission making a final decision on trade sanctions, which it intends to do later this month. 

It follows the Faroes’ decision earlier this year to unilaterally treble its quota of Atlanto-Scandian herring.

If enacted, sanctions could include restrictions on imports into the EU of Atlanto-Scandian herring or mackerel caught under the control of the Faroe Islands, and/or the use of EU ports by Faroes-flagged vessels that fish for Atlanto-Scandian herring and mackerel.

Mackerel will also be affected by any sanctions because the mackerel and herring fisheries are mixed and inseparable. 

Fishermen have welcomed the committee’s decision. “We hope it sends a clear signal to the Faroese that their actions are simply not acceptable in the 21st century and will not be tolerated by those nations committed to sustainable harvesting,” said chief executive of the Scottish Pelagic Fishermen’s Association Ian Gatt.

Although yesterday’s committee meeting did not consider sanctions against Iceland for its fishing of mackerel (also the subject of the EU’s ire), Iceland has waded into the debate in support of the Faroes.

Sigurður Ingi Jóhannsson, Iceland’s minister of fisheries and agriculture, said the country was disappointed the EU was considering sanctions on the Faroes. “This move from Brussels seriously undermines the efforts of the coastal states to find a solution through diplomacy and dialogue.”

It is understood that the Commission is gearing up to force through similar sanctions against Iceland on mackerel imminently.

Gathering momentum

The committee’s decision is the latest twist in the EU’s dispute with the Faroe Islands and Iceland on the issue of overfishing, which has been gathering momentum over the past year.

In September last year, the EU authorised legislation giving the Commission legal authority to issue sanctions if required. 

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In March this year, the Faroes raised its quota for Atlanto-Scandian herring.

In May, the UK asked the Commission to “envisage” trade sanctions against Iceland and the Faroes at an Agriculture and Fisheries Council meeting in Brussels. The EU also gave a warning to the Faroes.

If the Commission decides to enact sanctions, they will come into force seven days after publication in the Official Journal of the European Union.

A Commission spokeswoman said it was too early to say whether the Commission would decide to impose sanctions later this month.

However, it is expected that the Commission will give the green light to sanctions.