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EU Proposes Cuts in Fishing Fleets

May 29, 2002

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BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) _ The European Union’s head office announced plans for a dramatic overhaul of the 100,000-vessel fishing industry Tuesday, including a call for cutting some national fleets by up to 60 percent.

National politicians are wrangling behind the scenes in an effort to soften the measures, which could erase thousands of jobs Europewide. Fish stocks in EU waters have been vastly diminished by continued overfishing.

``It is make or break time,″ EU Fisheries Commissioner Franz Fischler said in presenting his proposals. ``Either we make bold reforms now, or we watch the demise of our fisheries sector. The desperate race for fish has to stop.″

The plan brought immediate protests from fishermen, who said it would cost far too many jobs, especially among small operators.

Across the EU, the new plan could cut the total fleet of trawlers working EU waters and those off the coasts of Africa and North America by 8,600, or 8.5 percent.

The plan also calls for ending subsidies to boost fishing capacity, tighter enforcement of catch limits and closer consultation with industry leaders.

The plan also would set aside $252 million to scrap hundreds of fishing boats _ reducing some national fleets by 60 percent by 2006 _ and to help those in the industry to find other work.

New rules also would set new standards for the shape and size of nets to reduce the take of small fish.

Fischler said the plan would result in the withdrawal of hundreds of boats from Europe’s main fishing areas, the Mediterranean and the North and Baltic Seas as well as other fishing areas off the coast of Africa, South America and North America.

Boat-owner Ian Potterton, 40, of Grimsby, once a major fishing port on the northeast coast of England, said EU reforms were aimed at pushing small operators like him out of business while leaving the big industrial trawlers alone.

``It should have been directed at ... large vessels, which have a lot of horsepower and catch lots of fish,″ said Potterton, who contended cod fishing in the North Sea had been in ``dire straits″ for years. He blamed the EU for not taking action sooner.

``During the 70s and 80s, there used to be a massive fishery for large cod ... It was basically a free for all and we are paying the price for that now,″ he said.

The EU plan was designed to take into account the concerns of African and other international partners about the EU fleet, especially Spanish vessels. Spain has the largest European fleet at 20,000 and its vessels fish in the most widely defuse regions. The country also gets the largest part of the annual EU fishing subsidy of $555 million.

European trawlers, notably Spanish boats, were singled out by Canada during the 1995 turbot war, when the Canadian navy intercepted and confiscated a Spanish trawler off the coast of Newfoundland for overfishing.

Fischler said he wanted to end ``the annual horse-trading″ of quotas, which have continued to ignore warnings from scientists that the levels of Europe’s most popular fish, including cod, haddock and hake, are at dangerously low levels.

``The effectiveness of fishing techniques means fleet catches have gone up, not down,″ Fischler said.

The World Wildlife Fund criticized the EU proposal, saying it did not go far enough to limit damage to fish stocks and other sea life, such as dolphins and birds, which routinely end up in illegal fishnets.

``Environmental protection is not an optional extra,″ said Julie Cator of the conservation group.

Spain, which has more than 65,000 workers employed in the fishing sector, along with Portugal, Italy and France have voiced strong opposition to the plan, saying it will cost too many jobs.

The president of the Basque fishermen’s association in Spain, Esteban Olaizola, called the plans a ``heavy blow″ to the region’s fleet, which he said has already been damaged by previous quota cuts.

``We have already destroyed enough of our vessels in the 1990s. We have decommissioned a lot of boats, and I don’t see why we should decommission any more,″ Olaizola said.

Manuel Crujeira of Spain’s Algeciras Fishing Guild said EU commissioners were ``anti-Spanish″ and predicted the plan would cost 20,000 jobs in the Spanish fishing sector alone.

British Fisheries Minister Elliot Morley supported the proposals, however, saying fish stocks ``are currently at risk of collapse.″

``This long-anticipated review comes not a moment too soon,″ he said.

Fischler said he hopes the plans will be approved by EU governments and the European Parliament by the end of this year.

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