Faroe Islands, Iceland trade threats with EU in fish row

Fri Aug 16, 2013 1:57pm EDT

* EU sanctions still require final endorsement

* September meeting to debate Atlantic fish stocks

* EU officials have said herring sanctions a first step

By Barbara Lewis

BRUSSELS, Aug 16 (Reuters) - Iceland and the Faroe Islands accused the European Union on Friday of violating international maritime law, ratcheting up the tension in a row over fishing limits.

At the end of last month, EU member states in principle supported sanctions against the Faroe Islands in protest at its government's decision to treble the limit on herring fishing.

Measures could include an import ban or closing EU ports to Faroese vessels, but they still require final endorsement from the executive European Commission, which is expected over the coming weeks.

EU officials have said herring sanctions are a first step towards similar measures against Iceland and the Faroe Islands in a long-running dispute over mackerel quotas.

The row has drawn comparisons with the "cod wars" of the 1950s and 1970s, and helped to derail Iceland's EU membership bid.

A statement from the Faroese prime minister's office said the government had requested an international tribunal to declare the European Union "in breach of its obligations" under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea.

It asked for EU authorities to be "ordered to refrain from the threat or adoption of coercive economic measures on the Faroe Islands".

A separate statement from the prime minister of Iceland also accused the European Union of breaking U.N. maritime law, in particular the obligation on coastal states jointly to agree on measures to protect and develop shared fish stocks.

The five coastal states in question are the European Union, the Faroe Islands, Iceland, Norway and the Russian Federation, which are scheduled to hold talks in London on Sept. 2-3 over the management of herring stock.

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.

Both Iceland and the Faroe Islands say only multilateral negotiations between all five states can agree management of the fish stock known as the Atlanto-Scandian herring.

Faroe Islands Prime Minister Kaj Leo Holm Johannesen said the threat of EU sanctions jeopardised those talks.

"The EU's intention to impose unilateral coercive economic measures against the Faroe Islands has already compromised the spirit of mutual respect and cooperation which is crucial to ensuring that real progress can be made on joint management of this valuable shared fish stock," he said.

No one from the European Commission could comment immediately.

But in July Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki said the European Union had no option but to take "all necessary steps" to ensure sustainable herring fishing. (Editing by Alison Williams)

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