ANALYSIS - Last week the European Parliment approved new rules, which will allow the European Commission (EC) to ban EU imports of fish from overfished stocks.
The regulation, approved with 659 votes in favour, 11 against and seven abstentions, opens the way to trade sanctions against third countries that allow unsustainable fishing of fish and fishery products from stocks of common interest.
This empowerment will allow the EC to apply sanctions against Iceland and the Faroe Islands, who are accused of overfishing of mackerel in the North East Atlantic.
Rapporteur Pat the Cope Gallagher (ALDE, IE) said: "While the regulation may be used against any third countries, the situation in the North East Atlantic is of immediate concern to all of us. Iceland has unilaterally increased its mackerel catch from 363 tonnes in 2005 to 147,000 tonnes in 2012. The Faroes' quota for mackerel has soared from 27,830 tonnes in 2009 to 149,000 tonnes in 2012."
Should these sanctions prove ineffective, the Commission may adopt additional measures, such as restricting the use of EU ports by vessels flying the flag of a non-compliant country or by vessels carrying fish from the overfished stock to the EU.
EU Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki also welcomed the European Parliament decision: "This legal instrument will become an integral part and a key tool of the overall Common Fisheries Policy, as it aims at ensuring sustainability. The rationale is simple: unsustainable fishing is lucrative and will always be tempting for some. But we simply cannot afford to let any third country nullify our industry's efforts and our conservation work. This instrument gives us the means to prevent that. I am confident that the final adoption of the Regulation by the Council of Ministers will proceed swiftly."
Now that the sanctions proposal has been approved by the European Parliament, Scottish fishermen are urging the European Commission to implement the measures as soon as possible.
Ian Gatt, chief executive of the Scottish Pelagic Fishermen’s Association, said: “We welcome the vote by the European Parliament, although it is essential that the European Commission now moves quickly to implement the measures. As the biggest stakeholder in the EU mackerel fishery, UK and Scottish Ministers will have a vital role to play by putting pressure on the Commission to ensure it does enact the sanction measures as fast as possible."
Scottish Fisheries Secretary Richard Lochhead also said: “Past experience show that the wheels of progress turn very slowly in Europe, therefore we need the EU to demonstrate greater urgency."
Scottish Liberal Democrat fisheries spokesperson Liam McArthur, MSP for Orkney, said: “The support of MEPs is welcome, but Scotland’s pelagic fishermen have seen their fill of false dawns. Sanctions are the last hope we have of persuading the Faroes and Iceland to return to the negotiating table.
“It’s high time this pressure was applied so that further damage to this key stock can be avoided.”
In response to European Parliament’s approval of rules, Sigurgeir Thorgeirsson, head of Iceland's Negotiation Team on Mackerel, the Ministry of Industries and Innovation told TheFishSite that Iceland agrees with the EU framework to combat illegal fishing.
However, in response to sanctions against Iceland over the mackerel dispute, he stated said that all coastal states fishing mackerel are responsible for the overfishing, not just Iceland and the Faroe Islands.
Mr Thorgeirsson stressed that the EU and Norway unilaterally agreed a 90 per cent share of the mackerel stock, leaving Iceland, the Faroe Islands and Russia with only a 10 per cent share. In order to reach a fair solution, the legitimate interests of all the coastal States must be taken into account, with the changing mackerel migration patterns recognised, said Mr Thorgeirsson.
Mr Thorgeirsson said that Iceland will consider the application of any measure, other than landing ban of mackerel by Icelandic vessels in EU ports, to be in violation of the World Trade Organisation Agreement and the European Economic Area Agreement.
However, Mr Thorgeirsson stated that he does not believe that the EU will resort to actions that are not in full conformity with those agreements and other international commitments.