Iceland fish farm policy ‘broke EEA rules’

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Fish farm in Berufjörður, Iceland

Iceland has been accused of violating European Economic Area (EEA) rules by failing to allow for a proper environmental impact assessment in the country’s aquaculture planning process.

The warning comes from the EFTA Surveillance Authority (ESA) which monitors compliance with EEA rules for countries which are, like Iceland, full members of the EEA but not member states of the European Union.

Frettabladid, one of Iceland’s leading national newspapers, reports that the country has broken eight articles of a treaty known as the ESA; for example, by excluding the public from the discussion of temporary licences and making it virtually impossible to appeal against them.

Icelandic environmental and sports fishing groups often attempt to block temporary fish farming licence applications without success. Other alleged violations govern the granting of operating licences.

Frettabladid also reports that the Icelandic state and especially the former Minister of the Environment and Natural Resources, Guðmundur Inga Guðbrandsson, and the former Fisheries Minister Kristján Þór Júlíusson, are accused of: failing to respond to the interim ruling; using the wrong laws to grant operating licences to aquaculture companies without an environmental assessment; and making the violations worse by their inaction when the licences were not revoked.

Iceland has two months in which to respond, otherwise the state faces being brought before the EFTA Court.

Now Iceland’s Minister of Social Affairs, Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson, says that the ESA treaty’s preliminary decision from 2020 on the state’s alleged violation of EEA rules on environmental assessment have already been acted upon.

He said the state has responded and the necessary amendments have been made to the Aquaculture Hygiene and Pollution Prevention Act.