Faroe Islands face EU sanctions over herring dispute

Wed Jul 31, 2013 11:38am EDT

* Still needs Commission endorsement

* Faroes says quota justified by higher stocks

* Says proposed EU measures illegal, counterproductive

BRUSSELS, July 31 (Reuters) - The European Union's member states supported sanctions against the Faroe Islands, which could be an import ban or closing its ports to its boats, to protest the islands' decision to treble the limit on herring fishing.

After Wednesday's political backing from diplomats representing the EU's 28 member states, the measures require a final endorsement from the executive European Commission, which is expected over the coming weeks, a Commission spokesman said.

The move follows months of haggling after the Faroe Islands earlier this year unilaterally increased its existing quota by more than three times the allocations it would have got under EU policy, the Commission said.

The Faroe Islands, a self-governed territory within the Danish Realm and not part of the European Union, says the EU rules do not give it a sufficient share of the herring catch and that a higher quota is justified by an increase in the number of herring in its waters.

The dispute has drawn comparisons with the "cod wars" of the 1950s and 1970s between Britain and Iceland.

"Given the gravity of the situation and the lack of cooperation 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," Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki said in a statement.

Scientists have laid out the case for a 26 percent cut in overall catches of herring, which the Faroe Islands shares with the European Union, Russia, Norway and Iceland.

The Faroes Prime Minister Kaj Leo Holm Johannesen said the EU's proposed "coercive economic measures" were illegal and counterproductive.

"Only multilateral negotiations between all five coastal states (the European Union, Faroe Islands, Iceland, Norway and the Russian Federation) can provide a joint management arrangement for the Atlanto-Scandian herring," he said in a statement. (Reporting by Barbara Lewis and Claire Davenport; editing by Jane Baird)