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Wednesday, 11 December, 2002, 18:24 GMT
Noisy protest over fishing cuts
Almost 1,000 fishermen from around the UK have taken part in a protest on the River Tyne at plans to drastically reduce cod fishing in the North Sea.
A flotilla of 70 boats arrived at the mouth of the Tyne on Wednesday to protest over European Union proposals for an 80% cut in cod fishing.
The plan follows a warning from scientists that over-fishing has led to a serious depletion of cod, haddock and whiting and that zero quotas are needed to safeguard the future of these species.
Fishermen say this will put them out of business and they set off hundreds of flares to mark the number of jobs they say are threatened by the proposed quotas.
But Prime Minister Tony Blair has ruled out withdrawing from the European Common Fisheries Policy, saying that to do so would be a "disaster" for the UK.
He was responding to a question in the Commons from the Tory MP Ann Winterton.
Dennis Clark, regional organiser for the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations, said the protest had gone well with about 900 crewmen taking part.
The 50-year-old skipper, who is based in North Shields, Tyneside, said members did not disagree with conservation measures but said there were far fewer boats fishing these days and stocks were recovering.
"The cod stocks might be down but the haddock stock is the best I've seen in 30 years and they want us to stop fishing those as well.
"It's become a political football and the decisions are not being made on the facts."
More vessels from North Sea ports had been expected to join the Tyneside flotilla, but poor weather kept them in harbour.
The boats fired red flares into the air at the mouth of the Tyne, then set off several miles upstream to the "blinking eye" Millennium Bridge.
Fisherman Steven Moss, 41, made the eight mile trip in heavy seas from Blyth, Northumberland down to the North Shields Fish quay.
He said cuts had already been introduced and should be allowed to come into effect to see how cod levels were affected.
"There are too many cuts too quickly and we are not getting the chance to catch up. We need to keep everything as it is," he said.
"The future doesn't look good but this is all I know and all I want to do."
The Agriculture and Fisheries Council meets in Brussels next Monday to set the fish quotas for next year.
Cod stocks are estimated to be within 12 months of a total collapse if drastic action is not taken.
EU fisheries Commissioner Franz Fischler acknowledged in an open letter to the fishing industry that livelihoods are at stake.
He blamed inadequate management of fish stocks, lack of government monitoring of fish catches and too much intensive fishing for too few fish for the current plight.
Mr Fischler said: "There is no getting away from the need to be far-sighted and responsible in reforming the common fisheries policy in such a way as to break out of the downward spiral in our fishing industry.
Facing his weekly question time, the Prime Minister said "The abolition of the Common Fisheries Policy... is not the answer to this problem.
"It would be a disaster if we withdrew ... because it would mean that other countries would have the freedom to fish without restriction for fish migrating into our waters.
"As a result we would end up finding we were in a worse position.
"The plain fact is - as the recent scientific report found - there is a huge problem with fishing stocks because they have been depleted at a rapid rate."
According to figures from the Scottish Executive, 18 out of the 21 commercial species in the North Sea are now beyond safe biological limits.
But the fishermen reject the scientists' findings.
The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) is among those groups advocating a temporary closure of the fishing grounds in the North Sea as the only way to allow stocks to recover and save the UK fleet.
But the WWF is also calling on the Treasury to assist fishing communities during the shut down.
For the past 15 years, political pressure has led to quotas being set at an average of 30% above the recommendations made by the International Council on the Exploration of the Seas (Ices).
Although some measures have been put in place to take the pressure off fish stocks in Britain, such as increased mesh sizes and funded decommissioning of the fleet, they have not been enough.
The WWF says any temporary closure has to be part of a broader recovery package that supports the fishing industry.
Have you been affected by this issue?
Steve, Lowestoft, England
I am a recreational fisherman. I live near the coast and fish once a week and have done so for many years. Believe me when I say there are very few sizable fish left in the seas around this country. Modern fishing vessels are so efficient that the current fleet cannot be sustained for much longer. Sorry commercials the good times are over, you've killed the goose.
Simon McDonald, UK
Coming from Lowestoft, a major fishing port in the past, I understand the frustrations of fishermen. However, my grandfather, who was a fisherman had a relevant saying "throw away the Roe and you throw away the future". Surely by cutting the quotas now we protect future generations of fishermen.
Preserving future fish stocks is important, but then so is the future of small fishing communities. If Brussels goes ahead with an 80% cut, then it must financially support the communities it affects.
It is a terrible shame that fishermen will be put out of business and a way of life will disappear. However it is unacceptable to treat the ocean as an infinite resource. We must stop environmentally damaging fishing practices and heed the advice of scientists to manage our fish stocks efficiently. We must learn to farm and manage fish better, or substitute fish in our diets with other protein.
Heron stocks may be high in the North Sea. However, fishermen have not spent years researching the global patterns of biodiversity, they should listen to the advice of the scientists in order to secure the future of the fishing industry. When I was a 'bairn' in North Shields there was about twice the number of fishing boats on the Tyne as there is now.
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