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Tuesday, 28 May, 2002, 15:05 GMT 16:05 UK
EU proposes radical fishing cuts
Commissioner Franz Fischler
Franz Fischler unveiled the reform plans

Proposals for a major overhaul of Europe's fisheries policy have been announced in Brussels.

The plans, aimed at saving endangered fish species, could mean the loss of about 28,000 jobs in Europe's fishing industry.

The reforms, which would mean cutting the size of the European fleet by 8.5%, are expected to meet fierce opposition from the countries most affected.

But with Britain's fleet already greatly reduced in recent years, fishermen's leaders are hoping the latest cuts will not be too punitive in the UK.

Cod is among the endangered species
The European Union Fisheries Commissioner, Franz Fischler, said it was "make or break time".

"Either we have the courage to make bold reforms now, or we watch the demise of our fisheries sectors in the years ahead", he said in a statement.

Scientists have been warning for years that stocks of many fish species have fallen to dangerously low levels.

At a recent conference in Boston, US, Researchers said that if current over-fishing continued in the North Atlantic basin, trawlers could soon be left chasing jellyfish and even plankton to make "fake" fish products.

Main points of the plans
Scrapping 8,600 vessels, 8.5% of EU total
Setting catch quotas for longer than a year
No more subsidies for new vessels
More money to help crews out of the industry
Tougher EU-wide sanctions
Better protection for seabirds and dolphins, and banning the finning of sharks
More selective fishing gear
Better deals with developing countries
The current system of setting annual catch quotas for each country is failing, and fishermen are having to go further afield and deeper into the ocean to find worthwhile catches.

It is against this background that Mr Fischler has presented his proposals for reforming the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).

There were allegations that the proposals had been delayed and even watered down after the Spanish Prime Minister, Jose Maria Aznar, intervened with the European Commission President, Romano Prodi.

The plans may mean the loss of about 28,000 fishing jobs across Europe.

There is likely to be bitter opposition to the draft plan from those most affected - the southern European countries and Ireland.

Half of the total fisheries budget of 1bn euros goes to Spain, which heads the countries opposed to the reforms.

Careless of the future

They say Spain is being asked to bear the brunt of the cuts in an industry that still directly employs 65,000 fishermen - compared with 16,000 in Britain.

Its critics accuse Spain (which is the current holder of the EU presidency) of ruthlessly catching everything that swims, including fish far too young to breed.

Spain objects to the UK having permanent exclusive access to parts of the North Sea, reflecting traditional fishing patterns.

About 28,000 jobs could be lost
The British fleet has recently undergone a 20% reduction programme.

The 10-year term of the CFP expires at the end of this year. It has failed to conserve Europe's fish stocks.

Mr Fischler said recently the EU fleet was twice as large as it should be for the resources available.

Immature catch

North-east Atlantic fish stocks are at historically low levels, with two-thirds below safe biological limits - in other words, at risk of collapse.

Half of all North Sea stocks have declined to this level. Most cod caught there these days are less than three years old, and have not reached sexual maturity.

The commission's plan to end all subsidies to build and refurbish new boats will free money to pay fishermen to find other jobs.

Extra money will also go into scrapping the boats themselves.

Environmental groups welcome plans to link quotas much more closely to the evidence from scientists about the state of marine ecosystems.

However, the launch of the reform plans will be only the start of months of wrangling over the exact shape of the changes.

The BBC's Angus Roxburgh
"In the North Sea the number of cod has fallen by two thirds since 1982"
EU Fisheries Committee chairman, Struan Stevenson
"There are far too many fishermen chasing too few fish"
UK Fisheries Minister, Eliot Morley
"We are unlikely to suffer such grave consequences as other countries"
See also:

28 May 02 | Science/Nature
16 Feb 02 | Boston 2002
01 May 02 | Science/Nature
28 May 02 | England
24 May 02 | UK
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