The EU Council Tuesday adopted a regulation under which sanctions can be slapped on non-EU countries that allow "non-sustainable fishing." Sanctions could include trade restrictions and limiting the use of EU ports by vessels flying the flag of the targeted country.
Norway and Scotland's regional government have been seeking EU sanctions against Iceland and the Faroes over their increased mackerel harvests in northeastern Atlantic Ocean waters.
The two countries unilaterally increased their take of the prized fish this year after four-way Coastal States talks (including the European Union, Faroe Islands, Iceland and Norway) to reach a mackerel deal failed to materialize for a third consecutive year.
Talks for 2013 mackerel quotas are to begin in October and now Norway and Scotland will be armed with the possibility of EU sanctions should the negotiations again fail to produce an agreement.
Under the new measure, countries deemed by Brussels to be violating fishing sustainability rules could see restrictions placed on their exports of fish into the European Union, as well as on their use of EU ports to unload the disputed catch.
Iceland claims the increased takes are justified because stocks of mackerel are abundant, with fish being spawned in its own waters. But Norway and Scotland point to scientific evidence claiming a cut in the mackerel quota is needed to sustain the stock.
Scotland's Fishing Minister Richard Lochhead welcomed the EU regulation.
"This has been a painfully slow process but sanctions have finally been agreed and we will continue to press for them to be implemented if the Faroes and Iceland again declare inflated mackerel quotas for next year," he said.
But, he added, early indications the mackerel quota will likely have to be cut next year to maintain sustainability is bad economic news for his country.
Lochhead called the findings "deeply frustrating" because the long delay in getting the European Union to agree to sanctions has resulted in the mackerel stock being put in peril.
"It is simply infuriating that overfishing of mackerel by Iceland and the Faroes could lead to Scottish fishermen facing reduced quotas," he said. "The current negotiating framework and Europe's lack of urgency is failing to protect a vital fishery and is threatening Scottish jobs. Now we are left in a very complex and difficult place."
Ian Gatt of the Scottish Pelagic Fishermen's Association also welcomed the EU agreement but urged that sanctions against Iceland and the Faroes be quickly implemented.
"Livelihoods in the Scottish catching, processing and other ancillary sectors could be affected if this totally irresponsible overfishing by Iceland and the Faroes were to result in reduced quotas for our own fishing fleet, which has been adhering to scientific advice and fishing sustainability," he said.
Iceland, however, pointed out the EU Council vote was split, with Germany and Denmark, which administers the Faroe Islands, abstaining.
"Two nations that are among the largest in fisheries, Denmark and Germany, did not think it right to approve the proposal and abstained," Icelandic Minister for Foreign Affairs Ossur Skarpheoinsson told the daily newspaper Frettabladid, pointing out that Denmark reserved the right to take actions directed against the Faroes to the European Court.