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EU Reaches Deal on Fish Quota Cuts

December 15, 2000

BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) _ After a night of haggling, European fisheries ministers reached a pre-dawn accord Friday that will slash catch quotas next year to protect fish species threatened with commercial extinction.

Under the quotas, fishermen will be allowed to catch 40 percent less of some species than they were before. European Union officials say the cuts are necessary to save several dwindling fish species, but the fishing industry predicted a disastrous impact on jobs.

``These are the most drastic cuts we’ve ever had since quotas were introduced,″ said Franz Fischler, the 15-nation European Union’s fisheries commissioner.

Ministers succeeded in watering down some of most draconian cuts. For example, the EU’s executive arm had recommended a 74 percent cut in the hake catch, and the ministers lowered that to about 40 percent. Cod catches in the North Sea will also be cut by 40 percent.

Environmentalists criticized governments for watering down the original cuts.

``I’m disappointed,″ said Julie Cator, fisheries specialist at the World Wildlife Fund’s European policy unit. ``They’ve been nibbling away at the figures instead of putting conservation at the forefront.″

For fishermen, though, even the smaller cuts were bad news.

``It looks like a terrible outcome,″ said Barry Deas, head of Britain’s National Federation of Fishermen’s Organizations. ``We may have reduced the cuts in some areas, but we came from an appalling starting point.″

Fishermen were particularly angered by cuts in the catch of species that are not in particular danger, such as sole or North Sea shrimp. EU officials insisted those quotas reductions were needed to prevent cod and other threatened types from being hauled in inadvertently as ``side catches.″

``There’s a lack of understanding that if you catch plaice or sole or whatever, you also catch cod,″ Gregor Kreutzhuber, fisheries spokesman for the EU’s head office, told reporters as the 12 hours of talks dragged on into the night.

The cuts will reduce the catch of hake in waters from northern Spain to the mouth of the Baltic Sea to 22,600 tons, from 42,000 tons. However, thanks in part to intense lobbying by Spain, the catch will more than double that originally proposed by the EU executive body.

``The scientific data shows that the situation is critical,″ said Miguel Arias Canete, Spain’s fisheries minister. ``Spain has tried to modify the efforts so the reduction is not so traumatic as to shut down the fleet.″

In the North Sea, where the quota cuts are linked to a Dec. 1 EU agreement with Norway, the total cod catch will fall from 81,000 tons this year to 48,600 tons in 2001.

Scientists believe North Sea cod is one of the species under greatest threat. They say stringent protection measures are needed to prevent fishing communities there from facing a similar fate to those on Canada’s Atlantic seaboard, where the government imposed a moratorium on fishing in the early 1990s because of depleted stocks, throwing thousands out of work.

Ministers are scheduled to meet again next month to consider other protection measures. Those might include setting up ``no-fishing″ zones where cod are spawning, limiting the number of days trawlers can set to sea and compensating fishermen for taking their boats out of service.

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