Commissioner Fischler recognised that fishing is a vitally important aspect of the bilateral relationship, given its crucial role in the Icelandic economy. Mr Fischler underlined the importance that the EU attaches to the fisheries agreement between the two parties and which involve reciprocal fishing possibilities for their fleets. He indicated that the EU would like greater flexibility for its fishing vessels to catch their available quotas in Icelandic waters and for control measures on EU vessels to be similar to those applied to local vessels by the Icelandic monitoring and inspection services.
The Commissioner stressed the importance of multilateral co-operation in the north-east Atlantic to ensure effective management of the important pelagic fisheries such as blue whiting, mackerel and Atlanto-Scandian herring in this area. On the particular question of blue whiting, Mr Fischler expressed the EU's continued concern at the lack of agreement among the interested parties on management measures for this fishery. Landings had reached 1.5 million tonnes while scientific advice from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) stood at less than two-thirds of that level for next year. Mr Fischler said that he regretted Iceland's decision to increase its quota to over 500,000 tonnes and this in a situation where Iceland had begun to target this fishery only a few years ago. He also recalled that agreement had not been reached on herring beyond bi-lateral and ad-hoc arrangements.
The recent reform of the Common Fisheries Policy, Mr Fischler said, would improve fisheries management not only in EU waters but also beyond. The new approach towards long-term management, phasing out subsidies for fleet renewal, more effective enforcement of the rules and increased involvement of stakeholders in CFP management would achieve sustainable fisheries. These changes, added to strengthened international co-operation, will be beneficial for both the EU and its partners, including Iceland.
On the question of the recent announcement by Iceland to resume whaling for research purposes, the Commissioner pointed out that in the European Union, the hunting of whales is a very sensitive issue for public opinion.
All whales species are protected under the Habitats Directive (1), the main piece of European legislation aiming at protecting natural habitats and wild fauna. Member States have undertaken to establish a system of strict protection in order to ensure their favourable conservation status.
The hunting of whales and trading in whale products is consequently forbidden in the EU.