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Monday, 16 December, 2002, 14:57 GMT
EU battles over fishing cuts
Fishermen protesting in St Austell
Some 28,000 jobs could be lost
The future of Europe's fishing industry is at stake as ministers meeting in Brussels discuss a European Union plan for drastic cuts in catches to save dwindling stocks.

The European Commission wants to reduce catches of endangered species such as cod and haddock by up to 80% - but the UK Government believes this would spell doom for its fishermen.

The cuts - targeted at fishing in the North Sea, Irish Sea and waters off Scotland's west coast - would also damage the French and Spanish fishing industries.

Scientists have said only massive cutbacks will save the fish from virtual extinction within a year.

The fisheries ministers' talks could turn into a marathon battle lasting all week.

Although haggling over fish quotas is an annual feature of EU debates, this year's talks threaten to be the most bitter and heated yet, the BBC's Janet Barrie reports from Brussels.

Fishermen say hundreds of coastal communities would be hit, putting thousands of people out of work.

Scottish fishermen have said the cuts could mean the loss of 20,000 jobs in Scotland alone.

Cash aid

The European Commission wants to decommission 8,600 boats by 2006 to achieve the 80% cut, which would mean that 28,000 jobs would be lost.

World Wildlife Fund protest in Brussels
Environmentalists are protesting against overfishing
"That is going too far," said UK Fisheries Minister Elliot Morley.

But EU Fisheries Commissioner Franz Fischler said radical change would have to come.

"We cannot go on as we have," he argued.

Mr Fischler warned he would impose an emergency ban if there is any delay in agreeing the 2003 quotas.

Such a delay would mean that "inevitably the stocks collapse one by one," he said.

Canada example

Hanging over the discussions is the memory of what happened in the Canadian island of Newfoundland 10 years ago, when the world's most abundant cod stocks collapsed completely after decades of overfishing.

French fishermen
Fishermen have been blockading French ports
The fish still have not come back, despite a fishing ban being imposed, and the economy of the province has been blighted.

Ahead of the talks, an independent scientific body recommended a total ban on fishing for cod in the North and Irish Seas and off the west coast of Scotland.

It also recommended a ban on catching species like haddock and whiting, where cod is often caught by mistake.

The European Commission backed away from a total moratorium but still recommended cuts of 80% in fishing for cod, haddock and whiting fishing, and cuts of 40% for plaice and sole.

But environmentalists were scathing about what they see as backsliding.

"It makes you wonder why the EU even asks for scientific advice," said Tony Long of the World Wildlife Fund.


 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Janet Barrie reports from Brussels
"The ministers face a difficult week"

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16 Dec 02 | Science/Nature
16 Dec 02 | Scotland
28 May 02 | Science/Nature
16 Dec 02 | Science/Nature
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