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Last Updated: Wednesday, 8 December, 2004, 11:58 GMT
EU set to close fishing grounds
Joe Borg
Joe Borg said more "tough measures" were required
The European Commission has proposed the closure of dangerously depleted cod grounds in the North Sea, Irish Sea and off the west of Scotland.

The proposals were announced on Wednesday as part of another major round of fishing cuts.

European fishing fleets will be asked to make reductions in their catch of up to 60% for herring, 34% for cod and 27% for mackerel.

But the proposals are less severe than those put forward by scientists.

A gradual approach prevents sudden fluctuations in [fish quotas] which make it difficult for fishermen to plan their activities from one year to the next
Joe Borg, EU fisheries commissioner
The biggest cuts in quotas and fishing effort relate to fragile deep-sea species.

"Some tough measures are still required to protect depleted fish stocks," said Joe Borg, commissioner for fisheries and maritime affairs.

"The proposals seek to strike a balance between what is biologically essential for recovery of fishing stocks and what is economically reasonable for the fishing fleet.

"We cannot afford to take a break at this time, as this would invariably ruin all the effort we have been doing in past years."

The commission also suggested the closure of cod grounds in Kattegat and Skagerrak in the Baltic and the eastern English Channel.

Marine protection

Other species with proposed cuts in certain fishing grounds are saithe (24%), plaice, skate, common sole, whiting (20%) and North Sea sandeel (14%) and Norway lobster (10%).

Some increases are proposed where stocks are plentiful. These include a 61% increase in the whiting catch in some areas, an increase of 22% for blue whiting, up to 20% more on the haddock quota and a 9% rise for hake.

Other suggested measures include tighter policing of fishing and catch landings at ports, controls in mixed fishing grounds to avoid the taking of cod as a "by-catch" while fishing for hake or whiting, and restrictions on days at sea - currently fifteen per month.

The commission has also outlined plans to further reduce the number of days allowed for cod fishing in the west of Scotland because, it says, the problem is particularly acute there.

Fish catch
The EU has a long-term approach to delivering sustainable fishing
"The cod fishery in the west of Scotland has virtually disappeared, because there is no cod left," said Ernesto Penas Lado of the fisheries directorate-general.

The proposals will now be the subject of intense haggling between EU fisheries ministers at talks in Brussels just prior to Christmas.

The commission's message is that the industry must endure more short-term pain in order to let stocks recover after years of over-fishing.

A report in October by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (Ices) went further than the European Commission's proposals.

Ices called for a ban on cod fishing in the North Sea, the Irish Sea and west of Scotland in 2005.

Gradual approach

Asked why the commission had not adopted these recommendations, Dr Borg said it had been decided that the scientists had not taken account of the effect of tough restrictions already being acted on, particularly in the Irish Sea.

He said that the European Commission would continue to tackle the problem through adjustments to total allowable catches (Tacs) in line with a long-term approach advocated by the Common Fisheries Policy reform.

"A gradual approach prevents sudden fluctuations in [fish quotas] which make it difficult for fishermen to plan their activities from one year to the next," said Dr Borg.

"We must not be lulled into thinking that the gradual approach is a soft option."

On Tuesday, Britain's Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution (RCEP) proposed that commercial fishing should be banned in 30% of UK waters to save threatened species.

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