The European Commission announced the move Tuesday amid a dispute with the self-governing Danish territory over what EU Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki called its "unsustainable" fishing practices, which she says are endangering stocks of the valuable catch in the North Atlantic.
In response, the Faroes have lodged a complaint with the United Nations over the European Union's "coercive economic measures."
Damanaki said in a statement the Faroe Islands' move this year to unilaterally triple its herring catch in contravention of a long-term management plan signed by Norway, Russia, Iceland, the Faroe Islands and the European Union represented an overfishing threat in the region.
"The imposition of such measures is always done as a very last resort," she said. "The Faroese could have put a stop to their unsustainable fishing but decided not to do so. It is now clear to all that the EU is determined to use all the tools at its disposal to protect the long-term sustainability of stocks."
Damanaki asserted that despite the commission's "best efforts to find a negotiated solution and the repeated warnings that measures could be adopted," the Faroese "refused to end their unsustainable fishing of the stock," despite a July 31 vote by the fishing ministers of EU members to back such an import ban.
The herring and import ban could hit the Faroes hard, since fishing products account for 97 percent of the islands' exports. About half of the Faroes' mackerel catch and one-third of its herring go into the EU market.
The sanctions are likely meant to put pressure on the Faroes in the run up to next month's meeting of the Atlanto-Scandian coastal states to discuss the joint management of the herring stock, the European Voice reported.
The islands' 50,000 inhabitants regard the sanctions as coercion, Faroese Prime Minister Kaj Leo Holm Johannesen said in a strongly worded reaction to the EU move, which came only days after the Faroes had referred the dispute for arbitration under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea.
"(UNCLOS) foresees dispute settlement mechanisms which are available for the EU with regard to exactly such disputes," Johannesen said. "It is therefore deeply disappointing to learn that the EU has decided to pursue the adoption of the coercive economic measures."
The European Union, he said, "has the audacity to claim, in its own press statement today, that it has 'exhausted all other means' to find a negotiated solution. This is quite clearly not the case and many EU member states have also acknowledged this situation."
The European Union is embroiled in a similar sustainability dispute with Iceland, which has also unilaterally increased its mackerel catch. Both it and the Faroes claim the higher quotas are justified because warmer water temperatures have led to many more fish crowding into their territorial waters.
No sanctions were announced against Iceland but Damanaki warned, "The commission is now taking the initial steps toward the application of (sanctions) in this case as well."
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