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Monday, 17 December, 2001, 12:14 GMT
EU fisheries 'face collapse'
Cod   PA
North Sea cod: So endangered they barely have time to breed
Alex Kirby

European Union fisheries ministers face having to make unprecedented cuts in catches.

If [the EC] wins, it will have to back the cuts with extra cash to save livelihoods

Dr Euan Dunn, RSPB
The European Commission (EC) is pressing them for reduced catch quotas for a record number of fish stocks. It will tell them when they meet in Brussels on 17 and 18 December that years of overfishing must stop.

The fisheries commissioner, Franz Fischler, says: "We now have our backs to the wall."

In Mr Fischler's view, the crisis is the consequence of "too many years of excessive fishing due to the substantial overcapacity of the EU fleet: too many boats competing for too few fish.

He said: "These proposals are part of a coherent long-term approach, which embraces all the EU fisheries. I am well aware that this is another black day for European fishermen."

The commission says the EU fleet is almost twice the size needed to catch the available fish.

As a first step it wants ministers to agree reduced quotas (total allowable catches - TACs) for more species in more areas than ever before.

Juvenile wipeout

The TACs that the commission wants to reduce significantly include cod in the Kattegat by 58%, haddock in the Irish Sea by 52%, sole in the North Sea by 25% and prawns in the Bay of Biscay by 45-50%.

It desperately wants to protect cod and hake, species it says are now being caught while they are still too young to spawn.

They therefore face commercial collapse, unable to breed in numbers that would be worth catching.

Trawler, PA
Livelihoods need support
The commission wants swingeing cuts in TACs of some species that live with cod and hake and are caught in the same nets.

These include haddock, whiting, some flatfish and prawns: some of them are in any case already at risk.

For the first time the commission wants a cut in the TAC of North Sea sandeels, caught in huge numbers by Denmark and a staple food for many seabirds. It wants a 20% reduction.

It will also propose safeguards for deep-sea species like the grenadier and orange roughy, which scientists say are exploited to the limit, or beyond it.

Dr Euan Dunn is the marine policy officer for the UK's Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), and an expert on EU fisheries.

Warming waters

He told BBC News Online: "Given the number of species and areas the EC is talking about, these are the most draconian cuts it's ever proposed.

"The commission bases its proposals on advice from scientists at the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (Ices).

"They're saying the number of stocks needing not just cuts in TACs but urgent recovery plans is three times more than a year ago.

Fish, PA
Many species are at risk
"Part of the problem is the years of overfishing. But there's pretty clear evidence that the North Sea is now about two degrees Celsius warmer than the running long-term average.

"That's affecting the breeding rate of the cod. And it's almost certainly happening across the north-east Atlantic.

"We've got red mullet breeding in the North Sea now, and a barracuda was landed in Cornwall.

Easing the pain

"What we need is not just TACs, but boats decommissioned, a reduction in days spent at sea, and closed areas to let juvenile fish breed safely.

"I have sympathy with what the commission is trying to get ministers to agree.

"But if it wins, it will have to back the cuts with extra cash to save livelihoods.

"The fishing communities are going to find this another desperate year. They'll need help to survive as a viable industry."

The BBC's Justin Webb
"Ministers were confronted this year with the bluntest of warnings"
See also:

29 Oct 01 | Scotland
Cod stocks on EU agenda
23 Oct 01 | Scotland
Oceans summit tackles sea stocks
17 May 01 | Scotland
Call for EU fisheries overhaul
17 Jan 01 | UK Politics
Fish stocks 'failure' attacked
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