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Last Updated: Monday, 17 December 2007, 12:29 GMT
Protests mark EU fish quota talks
Chris Mason
BBC News, Brussels

Greenpeace protesters
Protesters building a wall outside the Council building in Brussels

It was before sunrise and it was clear that the environmental group, Greenpeace, had planned some sort of stunt.

Journalists were led to the Justus Lipsius building, the headquarters of the Council of the European Union and the venue for this week's meetings of EU fisheries ministers.

The European Commission has already proposed further cuts in fishing catches to help protect stocks but Greenpeace is convinced the new quotas will not go far enough.

Cue the arrival of a large van - and a multinational, multilingual army of around 200 activists, from over a dozen countries, wearing bright yellow tops.

Breezeblocks and fish nets

Within seconds, breezeblocks were being carried towards the entrance of the building. Within 10 minutes, using cement, they'd built a wall around 20 metres long and two metres high.

Police moved in and began arresting the demonstrators.

For intrepid employees not put off by the wall and trying to get into the building using other entrances, fish nets appeared to stop them getting any further.

Cod: -25% (Most areas)
Cod: +11% (N-North Sea)
Northern hake: +2.5%
Bay of Biscay sole: -8%
Southern hake: +15%
Norway lobster: -15%
North Sea plaice: -15%
North Sea sole: -15%
North Sea Herring: -41%
Blue whiting: -32%
Bay of Biscay anchovy: Closed
North Sea sandeel: Closed
North Sea sprat: +15%

"The Fisheries Council has been an utter disaster for fisheries," Greenpeace's European Marine Policy Director Saskia Richartz told me.

"North Sea cod stocks, for instance, are close to the point of no return and unless changes are made, Europe's fisheries face a biodiversity and economic collapse."

Cod recovery

European Fisheries Commissioner Joe Borg agrees that most stocks are being over-fished but he says the signs of cod recovery are encouraging.

He says that is why he would like a 25% cut in cod catches for most EU waters, but an 11% increase in the northern North Sea.

The catches in the majority of other fisheries would be reduced. There would be a 41% cut in North Sea herring and a reduction of almost a third in the annual catch of blue whiting.

Fishermen argue current restrictions are already decimating their industry.

Previous cuts mean Scottish vessels already fish the equivalent of just two-and-a-half days a week.

The new quotas are expected to be agreed later this week.

Trawlers face further quota cuts
28 Nov 07 |  Science/Nature
'Slight recovery' for cod stocks
19 Oct 07 |  Science/Nature
Minister criticised on cod quotas
20 Nov 07 |  Science/Nature

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