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EU overfishing charges 'preposterous': Iceland

by Staff Writers
Reykjavik (AFP) Aug 26, 2010
Iceland's fisheries minister slammed as "preposterous" Thursday European Union allegations that it was overfishing mackerel and a threat of sanctions.

"We are fishing mackerel that comes up to the coast in great quantity," Jon Bjarnason said after an EU complaint Wednesday that Iceland and the Faroe Islands fished more than was justifiable on the basis of scientific evidence.

And, "according to international laws, we as a coastal country may fish in our jurisdiction so it is absolutely preposterous of the EU or its member countries to make such threats," the minister told Radio Saga.

Iceland's fishing policies, notably its refusal to share its cod fishing waters, have become a thorny issue in the country's bid to join the 27-nation European Union.

The Nordic island nation has unilaterally decided to raise its mackerel quota to 130,000 tonnes this year compared to the usual 2,000 tonnes agreed upon in an accord with the EU, the Faroe Islands and Norway in 1999.

The Faroe Islands, an autonomous Danish province located between Britain and Iceland, has meanwhile set a quota this year of 85,000 tonnes, three times higher than the quota in force for the past decade.

Bjarnason said Iceland and the Faroe Islands did not accept the way the EU and Norway proposed divvying up the quotas but was willing to try to reach a new accord.

"Personally, I put great emphasis on reaching an agreement, but our interests must be recognised and respected," he said.

"The mackerel is after all moving northwards due to rising sea temperatures," the minister said, justifying the dramatic increase in mackerel catches this year off Iceland and the Faroe Islands.

"We have a right to fish from that stock, but of course we want to reach an agreement, like we have done in regard to other (fish) stocks that move between jurisdictions," Bjarnason said.

"But we will do that on our own terms," he added.

Scottish and Norwegian fishermen are particularly angered by what has been described as a "mackerel war".

A Scottish member of the European parliament, Struan Stevenson, called on Monday for an EU-wide blockade of Icelandic and Faroese ships and goods.

The international environmental group WWF has also warned that the unilateral quotas set by Iceland and the Faroes could mean a "death sentence" for the fish.

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