SCOTLAND and Ireland are on the brink of a fishing war, with Irish vessels being threatened with "enforcement action" if they continue to operate in the zone around Rockall, an outcrop in the North Atlantic.

The Scottish Government said it is defending the interests of its fisheries against "illegal activity" around the uninhabited islet over which the UK claims sovereignty.

Irish Government ministers have received a letter from Fiona Hyslop, Scotland's Cabinet Secretary for External Affairs, stating that protection vessels will be deployed to take "enforcement action" against Irish vessels found fishing within 12 miles of Rockall from this weekend onwards.

A Scottish Government spokesman said that it is "our duty and obligation to defend the interests of Scottish fisheries". 

The Scottish Government raised the issue of access to the 12 mile area around Rockall for the first time in 2017, following the Brexit Referendum.

But the Irish Government has said it does not recognise its claim over the long-disputed territory located around 240 miles from the Scottish mainland.

HeraldScotland:

It is understood that up to half a dozen Irish vessels are currently working on squid and other species around the rich fishing grounds off Rockall.

Ireland's position is that Irish fishing vessels are legitimately pursuing EU fishing opportunities around Rockall and have done so for decades.

In response, a statement from the Irish Government said: "Ireland's position has been strongly made that there is no basis for excluding Irish fishing vessels from the Rockall waters as they are legitimately pursuing EU fishing opportunities in these waters and have done so unhindered for decades."

Minister for Agriculture Food and the Marine Michael Creed said: "The Tanaiste and I have worked very closely to avoid a situation whereby Irish fishing vessels who have been and continue to fish for haddock, squid and other species in the 12 mile area around Rockall, are under the unwarranted threat of 'enforcement action' by the Scottish Government.

"However, following this sustained unilateral action by them, I have no option but to put our fishing industry on notice of the stated intention of the Scottish Government."

Mr Creed held a meeting with fishing industry representatives on Friday.

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He said: "I am very disappointed to have had to make them aware of the risk of enforcement action against them for fishing legitimately in the waters around Rockall.

"The industry representatives understood the situation facing Irish vessels but are justifiably concerned at this action being taken by a fellow Member State where our industries are closely connected."

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: "Irish vessels or any non-UK vessels for that matter have never been allowed to fish in this way in the UK's territorial sea around Rockall and, despite undertaking extensive discussions with the Irish authorities on the matter, it is disappointing that this activity continues.

"There has actually been an increase in that illegal activity and, with the Rockall fishery season nearly upon us, it is our duty and obligation to defend the interests of Scottish fisheries and ensure compliance with well-established international law.

"We have provided an opportunity for the Irish Government to warn their fishers not to fish illegally and hope that this opportunity is taken up as this will of course obviate the need to take enforcement action - which would otherwise be implemented to protect our fisheries' interests."

HeraldScotland:

The Scottish Government first raised the issue of access to the area around Rockall in 2017, according to the Irish Government.

Tanaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Simon Coveney said: "We have never recognised UK sovereignty over Rockall and accordingly we have not recognised a territorial sea around it either.

"We have tried to work positively with the Scottish authorities and to deal with sensitive issues that flow from it in a spirit of kinship and collaboration.

"We very much regret that matters have reached this point and intend to do everything possible to achieve a satisfactory resolution."