Shadow Fisheries Minister, Labour’s Daniel Zeichner has rebuked the UK Government for it’s weak action on the Faroe/Russia fisheries agreement
Defra has confirmed that it has formally requested consultations with the Faroese Government over Russian fishing vessels being allowed to enter the Special Area, an area of sea shared by the UK and Faroe Islands, but Labour’s Shadow Fisheries Minister says enough is not being done.
The UK government is under pressure to act, and although there has been unrest from the British public and fishing industry on the issue, Fisheries Minister, Mark Spencer has insisted that the delays in meetings before the new year was down to the situation where the Faroe Islands was in the process of installing a new government.
At the end of November 2022, the Faroe Islands signed a year’s extension to their annual bilateral fisheries agreement with Russia. This led to much condemnation from the UK, EU and the Kingdom of Denmark. At the time Fisheries minister, Árni Skaale, who represents the conservative party Fólkaflokkurin said:
“The Faroe Islands have every right to extend the current agreements with Russia. In the Faroe Islands, we distance ourselves completely from any kind of war – including from the war in Ukraine. But for us this agreement is about much more than fishing.”
Before the deal was signed, the majority of opposition parties in the Faroese Parliament had voiced opposition to the renewing the agreement but eventually capitulated and voted in favour of the deal.
Two month on since the agreement was signed and with a new government installed since the 22 December, it is believed that there could be a move to break the fisheries agreement with Russia, although it might not happen immediately. During the general election campaign, Aksel Johannesen, chairman of Javnadarflokkurin (a social democratic party) and now leader of the new government, vowed to end the controversial agreement by 2024.
The deal with Russia is basically to swap fishing quotas and access to fish the swapped quotas in reciprocal national waters. The Faroe Islands swap blue whiting, mackerel and herring quotas in Faroese waters with Russia for access to cod, haddock, shrimp and flat fish quotas in their waters. The Russians having access to fish in Faroese waters, also mean they are licensed to fish in the Special Area, the mutual shared zone between the UK and Faroe Islands, which lies north of Scotland.
In April last year, Scottish fishermen complained to the UK government over the same issue and it was raised in Parliament by Orkney and Shetland MP Alistair Carmichael of the Liberal Democrat Party, who even met online in June with then Faroese Fisheries Minister, Árni Skaale, to discuss the issue. But in that time, the UK government failed to address the issue.
2024 might not be soon enough for the UK. If the agreement is not broken before then, it means another 12 months of Russian trawlers operating in the Special Area, something that is not a satisfactory result for those campaigning to starve Russia physically and economically for their illegal invasion of Ukraine, which is ongoing for 11 months now.
The Faroese have the legal right to license vessels to fish in the Special Area; the activity the Faroese license will be solely under their jurisdiction and control. The UK has the same rights in the area but has not licenced any Russian fishing vessels to operate there, or in any part of its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
In a statement to The Fishing Daily, Defra said that the UK Government is discussing arrangements for the meeting.
A UK Government spokesperson said:
“We were deeply concerned about Russian fishing activity in the shared UK-Faroes Special Area last year and made this clear to the Faroese Government.
“We will categorically not license any Russian flagged vessels to fish anywhere in UK waters, and continue to urge the Faroes to follow our lead and not permit Russia to fish in the Special Area this year.
“We have requested urgent discussions on the issue with the Faroese Government which will take place in the coming weeks.”
Labour’s Shadow Minister for Fisheries, hit out at the UK government’s reply saying:
“This is weak. The Government once again is demonstrating its inability to use its soft powers in negotiations.
“Did the Minister even instruct his negotiating team to raise the issue in talks with the Danish and Faroese counterparts?
“During these negotiations we had real leverage – complaining now is just too late.”
The Fishing Daily has contacted the Department of Fisheries in the Faroe Islands for a reply.