Iceland: Fisheries off-limits to EU


SeafoodSource staff

Published on
July 27, 2010

Iceland on Tuesday kicked off formal negotiations with the European Union over joining the 27-nation bloc, expressing its willingness to sit at Europe’s “family table” but insisting that its fisheries remain off-limits to the EU.

In a letter to European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, Össur Skarphédinsson, Iceland’s foreign affairs minister, recommended establishing a “specific management area” allowing Iceland to remain in control of its fisheries and keeping foreign fishermen out of its waters. Iceland’s Exclusive Economic Zone covers some 760,000 square kilometers (293,438 square miles).

Backed by Iceland’s parliament, Skarphédinsson also emphasized the fishing industry’s significance to Iceland’s economy — seafood represents nearly half of the country’s total exports — and that it must not be undermined.

“The difference between Iceland and the rest of Europe is perhaps most strikingly reflected by the fact that income based on the fisheries accounts for 100 times more per person than is the EU average,” he said.

Skarphédinsson also stressed the importance of sustainable fishing to Iceland — its fisheries are widely considered to be among the world’s best managed.

“In times of endemic overfishing, Iceland has managed to create a system that admittedly is not perfect, but ensures sustainable fishing,” said Iceland’s government in a prepared statement. “Despite temporary financial difficulties in the wake of the banking collapse, Iceland continues to harness its marine resources on the strict principles of sustainable utilization.”

The EU is in the process of reforming its Common Fisheries Policy, due by 2012, and Iceland fears that keeping its fisheries independent of EU rule may prevent the country’s entry into the bloc. Another obstacle is Iceland’s pro-whaling stance.

The EU-Iceland talks have no deadline and may last longer than a year. Albania, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia are also pursuing EU membership.

Iceland’s seafood harvest was valued at ISK 115 billion (USD 950.6 million, EUR 730.5 million) in 2009, up 16 percent from 2008. The country’s most valuable species are cod (ISK 36.7 billion), haddock (ISK 15.3 billion), herring (ISK 12.8 billion), redfish (ISK 10 billion) and saithe (ISK 7.8 billion).

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