Brussels (AFP) Aug 25, 2010
Iceland and the Faroe Islands are overfishing mackerel way above a level deemed safe for the survival of the fish, the European Union's executive arm said Wednesday.
Iceland's fishing policies, notably its refusal to share its cod fishing waters, has been identified as a thorny issue to resolve with the EU in the North Atlantic island's bid to join the 27-nation club.
Oliver Drewes, the European Commission's spokesman for maritime affairs, said the dispute over mackerel would be discussed with Iceland and the Faroe Islands at a technical meeting in September.
"They are overfishing more than which is justifiable on the basis of scientific evidence," Drewes said at a news briefing.
"So in fact they are taking more out than which is good to maintain this fish in the future and that is the concern we have on the more fundamental basis," he said.
Iceland has unilaterally decided to raise its mackerel quota to 130,000 tonnes this year compared to the usual 2,000 tonnes.
The Faroe Islands, an autonomous Danish province located between Britain and Iceland, has set a quota of 85,000 tonnes, three times higher than the quota in force between 1999 and 2009 in a deal with the EU and Norway.
The Faroe Islands' fishing minister, Jacob Vestergaard, rejected accusations of overfishing.
"We are not overfishing and the species -- mackerel -- isn't threatened at all. The fish is abundant in our waters," he told AFP by telephone from the archipeligo's capital Torshavn.
Vestergaard said the quota was appropriate given the number of mackerel in their waters, estimates which were based on scientific studies.
The moves by Iceland the Faroe Islands and have angered Scottish and Norwegian fishermen.
A Scottish member of the European parliament, Struan Stevenson, called on Monday for an EU-wide blockade of Icelandic and Faroese ships and goods over what has been described as a "mackerel war".
"Iceland and the Faroes are acting just like their Viking ancestors, only this time it's our mackerel they're plundering," Stevenson said.
"So far they have obstinately refused to bring their quotas back down to sensible levels, so I believe the EU must apply maximum pressure to bring them back to the table," he said.
The international environmental group WWF has warned that the unilateral quotas set by Iceland and the Faroes could mean a "death sentence" for the fish.
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