12 agosto 2009
Greenpeace boats sailed on Monday (10 August) into Swedish waters and began dumping 180 two-three tonne granite rocks on the seabed to prevent fishermen from using bottom trawling in areas under European Union protection.
The area in Kattegat, between Denmark and Sweden, is mainly used by Danish fishermen but is listed under the EU's Habitat Directive because of its unique and rich sea life.
Local authorities in Sweden would like to stop bottom trawling in the area, but the decision falls with EU authorities, which have allowed the practice despite the habitat register.
"Today it is nearly impossible for the responsible authorities in EU member states - in Sweden, the County Administrative Boards - to regulate fisheries which take place in areas designated as marine protected areas," said Greenpeace in Sweden in a briefing.
Local fishermen tried on Monday to block the port of Varberg, where a large cargo ship loaded with tonnes of Greenpeace' granite blocks headed out to sea.
The head of regional fishermen's association Hallandsfiskarna, Viking Bengtsson, declared at an earlier hearing that the placement of stones was "unnecessary," but agreed that reformed fisheries management is needed in the region.
The Danish minister responsible for fisheries, Eva Kjer Hansen, said the NGO's action was "unacceptable vigilantism" and called on her Swedish colleague to stop Greenpeace.
"It is for the authorities to decide where it is authorised to fish and were it is not authorised. The Greenpeace move is pure vigilantism, imposing losses of fishing opportunities on law-abiding Danish fishermen," Mrs Kjer Hansen said in a statement.
She contacted her Swedish colleague Eskil Erlandsson and pointed out that it makes no sense to strike bilateral Danish-Swedish agreements about closing fisheries in certain areas to protect threatened species, if organisations take the law into their own hands and simply close areas to fishing.
Sweden's fisheries minister Eskil Erlandsson has not stopped the dumping, however.
He said in a comment published by Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter that "fish do not recognise any borders" and added that problems had to be solved between countries and through internal bodies.
"The demand from Greenpeace of a unilateral ban in the area concerned is without effect as the areas are covered by the EU's common fisheries policy. It means all countries in the EU hold rights to fish in the area. A ban on just Swedish fishermen would not work", he said.
So far only Ireland has managed to introduce local restrictions on fisheries to protect marine environment, while Germany has launched a process to have more areas protected.