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Sunday, 25 June, 2000, 13:57 GMT 14:57 UK
Eastern Atlantic fishing 'unsustainable'
Overfishing is a greater threat to the area than pollution
By environment correspondent Alex Kirby

Two-thirds of the main commercial fish species caught in the north-east Atlantic are being depleted faster than they can replenish themselves.

And all nine of the commercial species caught in the North Sea are being fished unsustainably, says a report to a conference on the region.

The report also says that new deep-water species, increasingly being sought by the developed world's fishing fleets, stand to suffer the same fate.

The report concludes that overfishing is a greater threat to the area than pollution or any other human activity.

It is being presented later this week to the meeting in the Danish capital, Copenhagen, of the Ospar Commission (formerly two separate bodies, the Oslo and Paris Commissions).

Ospar is responsible for protecting the marine environment of the north-east Atlantic, stretching from the North Pole to Gibraltar. It consists of 15 European governments and the European Union, and is meeting from 26 to 30 June.

'Ouside safe limits'

The Quality Status Report 2000 (QSR 2000) to be presented to the meeting says that in 1999, 40 of the 60 main commercial fish stocks in the Ospar region, and all nine North Sea stocks listed, were believed to be "outside safe biological limits".

Deep-sea species are increasingly being sought by commercial fishing fleets
This means the stocks are currently unsustainable, are being severely depleted, or are in danger of becoming so.

QSR 2000 also sounds the alarm about some of the deep-ocean species which are increasingly the trawlers' quarry as the EU's common fisheries policy's quota system makes it harder for them to find worthwhile amounts of traditional catches like cod and haddock.

The report says some deep-sea species not subject to quotas, like blue ling, redfish and grenadier, are also at risk.

Eco-systems in danger

Not only the species themselves but the fragile eco-systems in which they live may be in danger.

Unlike in shallower waters, there is no knowledge base for setting sustainable fishing limits for deepwater species

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, commenting on QSR 2000, says: "Unlike in shallower waters, there is no knowledge base for setting sustainable fishing limits for deepwater species.

"Ageing techniques have been validated for only three of the 340 fish species recorded from the north Atlantic, so there is an urgent need for basic ecological information.

"All the indications are that most deepwater stocks are highly vulnerable to over-exploitation, having an extremely low rate of generation turnover."

'No solutions'

The RSPB says QSR 2000 falls short of robustly advancing the case for protecting the marine environment, because it describes the crisis without suggesting solutions.

Fish in boxes
Commercial fish stocks in the north-east Atlantic are "outside safe biological limits"
The RSPB itself says there is a need to close some deep-sea areas to fishing altogether.

The Ospar meeting will also hear concerns about chemical pollution of the seas, and several countries, including Denmark and Ireland, will press for an end to nuclear reprocessing in the Ospar area.

They are concerned about continued emissions of radioactivity from the French reprocessing plant at Cap La Hague, near Cherbourg, and from British Nuclear Fuels' Sellafield plant in north-west England.

Despite a promise two years ago that Sellafield would move to "near zero" emissions, the United Kingdom Government said last week the plant would still be making substantial discharges (up to a third of present levels) into the Irish Sea by 2020.

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