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Faroes Dismiss UK, EU Attacks Over Russian Trawler Licenses, Say Cooperation ‘A Sovereign Matter’

© Photo : zenitt Village Kvivik, Faroe Islands
Village Kvivik, Faroe Islands - Sputnik International, 1920, 09.05.2022
Situated some 320 km north of Scotland, the Faroe Islands are a self-governing territory of the Kingdom of Denmark that enjoys autonomy over their fishing waters. The islands are not part of the European Union, and have a special relationship with Russia owing to decades of fisheries cooperation, which expanded dramatically in 2013.
The Faroe Islands' parliament granted the territory’s Foreign Ministry the power to sanction Russia on Friday after months of British and EU pressure. But the "Faroese Sanctions Act" excludes the crucial areas of fisheries cooperation and seafood exports, and would require additional parliamentary approval if restrictions against these areas were proposed.
Officials in London, Edinburgh, and Brussels have seethed over the Faroes’ fishing cooperation with Russia. Last month, London urged the islands to “take a tougher stance” on the matter, suggesting that “allowing Russian vessels access” to waters shared by the Faroes and the UK “in the midst of the horrors we are seeing in Ukraine is simply wrong”.
Faroese Fisheries Minister Arni Skaale dismissed these concerns, telling the Financial Times in an interview Monday that the Faroes’ licensing of up to 29 Russian fishing boats to white fish trawling for the remainder of 2022 was “a sovereign Faroese matter”.
“As a nation, we rely exclusively on fish and relations with neighbouring countries over fisheries. Limiting those opportunities…has much greater consequences for us than others realize”, Skaale said. The official stressed that ceasing “cooperation and communication with Russia” on fishing would see the islands “completely lose control” amid expected Russian retaliation, and given joint efforts to sustainably manage herring stocks.

Faroese Foreign Minister Jenis av Rana assured that the recently introduced sanctions legislation has made the islands “more closely aligned with the West” than before. “But it doesn’t mean we’ll categorically say yes to everything the EU, NATO and other Western countries are doing. In terms of fisheries, we’re most inclined to look to Norway, which is in a very similar position to us”, he added.

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Av Rana also slammed EU criticism of the Islands’ position, saying Faroese companies have largely stopped exports, thanks in part to EU restrictions which block payments from being made. “The fact that our trade with Russia has ceased – which is so vital for the Faroes, it’s around 25 percent of our exports – is equivalent to Denmark suddenly being unable to sell to its top three markets”, the foreign minister stressed.
Russia accounted for over 23 percent of the Faroe Islands’ total exports in 2021, according to Faroese Statistics Office data.
The Faroes and Russia began expanding fisheries trade in 2013, when the EU slapped sanctions on the islands for raising quotas without consulting Brussels. The Russia-West crisis over Ukraine that ensued in 2014 saw cooperation increase further, with the islands’ exports to Russia accounting for some 29.2 percent of total exports in 2017. The tiny islands have alternated between first and second place as a percentage of Russian seafood imports from 2015 onward. Blue whiting, herring, mackerel, cod, saithe, haddock, silver smelt, sprats, and scallops account for the majority of the islands’ catch, with the Faroes also a major producer of aquaculture harvested Atlantic salmon.
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