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EU debates drastic fishing cuts

Cod stocks in the North Sea have fallen by about three-quarters since 1970
Cod stocks in the North Sea have fallen by about three-quarters since 1970

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BRUSSELS, Belgium -- European Union ministers are gathering for crunch talks expected to result in further drastic cuts in fish catches.

Despite huge reductions in the fishing quotas in recent years, the industry across Europe is facing a crisis due largely to over-fishing.

Cod stocks are under 20 percent of what they could be, and there are fears that if the trend continues, cod fishing will no longer be viable.

EU fisheries ministers from Britain, France, Spain, Portugal and other Atlantic nations are braced for marathon talks lasting all week over demands from the European Commission for cuts in fishing of up to 80 percent.

It is feared that unless the cuts are implemented and the depletion continues, stocks might never return.

EU Fisheries Commissioner Franz Fischler wrote in an open letter to fishermen last week: "Over fishing has in recent years gradually undermined the livelihood of the fishing industry.

"Too many boats are fishing more and more intensely for too few fish."

In December 2000, the EU imposed a 40 percent cut in catch quotas for North Sea fish following warnings from scientists that over-fishing threatens the survival of cod and hake.

In December 2001 more cuts were imposed after it was revealed that over-fishing had left 12 fish stocks close to extinction.

This year's talks are due to start on Monday and are expected to last until Thursday.

But Danish Fisheries Minister Mariann Fisher Boel has warned that the talks may extend into the pre-Christmas weekend if necessary.

Fischler has proposed cuts of up to 80 percent as a middle ground, but there is little support from members countries, most of whom have large fishing industries.

The EU has some 220,000 fishermen -- and as many employed in associated sectors such as freezing and packaging.

In France last week, fishermen blockaded three key ports -- Boulogne, Calais, and Dunkirk -- for five hours in protest at proposals to cut their quotas. (Story)

Fischler: “Too many boats are fishing more and more intensely for too few fish
Fischler: “Too many boats are fishing more and more intensely for too few fish"

Fishermen from wider afield, including many from Britain, Denmark, Italy and the Netherlands, joined the Boulogne blockade to show solidarity with their French counterparts.

Loik Jagot, secretary-general of France's Federation of Fish Production Organisations, told the Associated Press: "Reducing quotas by 80 percent isn't protection -- it's death for the industry."

EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy expressed sympathy for the fishermen but defended the commission's decision.

"We understand them (the fishermen)," he told French RTL radio. But, "there are less and less fish and someone must act to preserve the stocks of fish so that there will still be fish, and fishermen will still have work in a few years."

Cod and other whitefish have been European staples for centuries.

They have defined regions from Spain to northern Scotland. Salted cod is the essence of Portuguese gastronomy and deep fried cod is the mainstay of British fish and chips.



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