The European Commission is poised to issue trade sanctions against the Faroe Islands in response to alleged overfishing of herring in the North East Atlantic, it has emerged.

The UK asked the EC to “envisage” trade sanctions against Iceland and the Faroes at yesterday’s Agriculture and Fisheries Council meeting in Brussels.

The UK’s call comes as EU member states – including the UK – have become increasingly agitated over the alleged overfishing of North East Atlantic mackerel and herring stocks by the two nations. The stocks are a lucrative resource for a number of member states including the UK, Ireland and France. 

The Council reported – in a provisional press release of yesterday’s meeting – that the Commission was now “ready to initiate” sanctions under the authority of a legal instrument adopted by the EU in September last year.

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In March, the Faroe Islands unilaterally set a quota of Atlanto-Scandian herring, angering the EU and Norway with whom it jointly fishes the stock.

On mackerel, the Commission said it favoured discussing the situation with the new Icelandic government (which came to power following recent elections) before proposing any trade sanctions.

Fishing groups have welcomed the Commission’s stance on herring but criticised it for falling short in preparing trade measures on mackerel. “We are disappointed there has been no significant further movement with regards to implementing sanctions against both Iceland and the Faroes for their over-catching of mackerel,” said Ian Gatt, chief executive of the Scottish Pelagic Fishermen’s Association.

Defra told The Grocer today it was keen to see a settlement with Iceland and the Faroes to guarantee the sustainability of mackerel as soon as possible. “We remain prepared to support trade sanctions if Iceland and the Faroes continue to behave irresponsibly,” said a spokesman.

The Commission would not clarify any timescale for issuing any sanctions.

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