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Tuesday, 18 December, 2001, 15:20 GMT
Q&A: Europe's fishing row
As European Union fisheries ministers announce further cuts in fishing quotas for 2002, BBC News Online answers questions on the issues involved and what could happen next.

What are the key disagreements?

The European Commission, which says about a dozen species of fish are near commercial extinction, is to reduce next year's catch quota by up to 60%.

It also wants more fishing boats decommissioned and a reduction in the number of fishing days at sea.

Although the latest cuts are not as draconian as expected, the fishing industry says the policy has gone too far, and risks destroying the livelihood of the EU's quarter of a million fishermen.

Fishing leaders say jobs will not only be lost on the boats, but also further down the supply chain - the fish processors, the net makers, the equipment suppliers, the market sellers and the transport companies whose livelihoods also depend on the industry.

Some ministers also disagree with the commission's planned reduction of prawn fishing to stop large numbers of cod being caught in prawn nets.

They say scientific evidence suggests that modern fishing techniques allow cod and other fish to escape the nets.

Is the quota policy working?

No. Cuts in catch quotas and mandatory reductions in fishing fleets have been in place for years but have so far failed to stop the decline in several key species.

Quotas were first introduced with the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), agreed in Brussels in 1983.

The policy set up a system of quotas for each member state and established a coastal band around the shores of each country reserved for local fishermen.

But those involved in the industry believe the system does not work, and in any case is poorly enforced. They argue that millions of tonnes of dead fish have been thrown back in the sea - they cannot be landed due to the quota rules.

What are the species most at risk?

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has placed cod on its list of endangered species.

Figures released by the organisation last year showed that numbers of mature cod in the North Sea were half those of the early 1960s.

The latest cuts from the commission do not envisage significant cuts in cod quotas, which will please fishermen but anger environmentalists and scientists.

The WWF says it is not just North Sea cod that are threatened - the problem extends to the Irish Sea and to the West coast of Scotland.

Indeed, all the other major fish stocks are now at risk, including haddock, whiting, saithe and plaice.

Could they become extinct?

Yes. Canada's fishing industry was ravaged in the early 1990s when Atlantic cod stocks were wiped out as a result of overfishing.

A WWF report released in October revealed alarming parallels between the current status of cod in the North Sea and the Canadian disaster.

Fish stocks are also under threat off the coast of West Africa.

The Commission has offered African states valuable financial compensation in exchange for fishing rights for European vessels.

The problem is that stocks in these rich fishing grounds are now plummeting.

Will jobs be lost?

More than 30 boats are to leave Northern Ireland's fishing fleet in the New Year as part of a European-funded decommissioning scheme.

Fleets in the Kattegat strait between Denmark and Sweden are also likely to be hit hard.

Negotiations are still going on between Norway, Iceland and the Faroe Islands.

What can be done?

Europe's Fisheries Commissioner Franz Fischler has said the latest agreement on quota cuts is "acceptable".

The WWF, however, argues that quota allocations form only one strand of what should be an integrated approach.

It stresses the importance of conservation measures such as decommissioning of surplus fishing capacity.

So-called lay-up schemes, whereby fishermen tie up their boats for certain length of time - especially during the cod spawning season - are also recommended.

But fishermen want either to be compensated for tying up their boats, or to be retrained if they choose to leave the industry.

In its latest report, the WWF particularly stressed the need for financial packages, calling on governments to provide the short-term investment required to fund the process.

See also:

18 Dec 01 | Europe
17 Dec 01 | Science/Nature
23 Oct 01 | Scotland
01 Aug 01 | Africa
17 May 01 | Scotland
17 Jan 01 | Politics
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