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The BBC's Angus Roxburgh in Brussels
"The fishermen generally welcome the move as an appropriate one off measure"
 real 28k

Wednesday, 24 January, 2001, 15:22 GMT
Emergency ban to save cod
Cod boxes
Cod stocks have come close to collapse
Vast areas of the North Sea are to be closed to cod fishermen under emergency measures announced by the European Commission.

Officials have decided to close 40,000 square miles to fishing fleets for 12 weeks, starting in mid-February, to give stocks a chance to recover during the crucial spawning season.

These measures are needed to avoid extinction of cod in the North Sea

Commission spokesman
The plan is part of a longer-term project to halt the dangerous decline in cod stocks.

Fisheries ministers had already agreed to major cuts in quotas as part of the fight to save cod.

The new deal was struck after a final round of talks between commission officials and Norway, one of the major North Sea fishing countries.

It covers around a fifth of the North Sea - in areas off the north and east of coasts Scotland, East Anglia, and Norway and Denmark.

Fishermen have accepted the ban is necessary
"These measures are needed to avoid extinction of cod in the North Sea," said a commission spokesman.

"The emergency measures will include setting up a temporary controlled area where spawning takes place," said a statement from the commission.

"All fisheries likely to catch cod will temporarily be forbidden in this area to allow the maximum survival of fish from the reproductive activity of this year's spawning stock."

Click here for table of fish stocks

The ban, though hailed by a UK minister as the most significant measure in years, stops short of what the commission had been asking.

Scottish boats, for example, face cuts of 15-20% of their fishing grounds - but the original recommendation had been a 40% loss.

Mike Park, of the Scottish White Fish Producers' Association, said the deal was reached under extreme conditions.

"The European Commission as it stands can only introduce an emergency measure once - it cannot do it again," he said.

"I think at the end of this year there will be new measures implemented with technical conservation at the forefront."

Under the quota deal struck by ministers in December, cod catches will be cut by nearly half for 2001.

North Sea cod numbers have been falling steadily since record-keeping began in 1963.

EU officials say there are now some 70,000 tonnes of adult cod in the area, far below 1970's level of 250,000, and about half the minimum that scientists say is needed to guarantee the survival of the species.

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See also:

01 Dec 00 | Europe
Fish quotas face drastic cuts
15 Dec 00 | Europe
EU slashes fish catches
30 Nov 00 | UK Politics
MEPs urge radical action on cod
17 Nov 00 | Europe
EU battles to save cod
17 Nov 00 | Scotland
Cod catch ban 'to be resisted'
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