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Last Updated: Tuesday, 18 November, 2003, 06:54 GMT
Minister in Brussels fish talks
Large cod in market
North Sea cod is dwindling
Scotland's fisheries minister has travelled to Brussels to take part in talks on next year's fishing quotas.

Ross Finnie said he would take "every opportunity" to put forward the country's case at the European fisheries council and warned against "draconian" measures.

It was the first time European Union ministers had met to discuss the issue since scientists renewed their calls for a ban on cod fishing.

Measures introduced earlier this year restricted cod catches in the North Sea by 45%, with haddock catches cut by half and whiting by almost two-thirds.

Scottish fishermen are only allowed to spend 15 days a month at sea.

However, last month the scientists who advise the European Union on fish quotas recommended a ban on cod fishing off the west of Scotland, in the North Sea and in the Irish Sea.

Ross Finnie
It should not be necessary to adopt more stringent recovery targets or to reduce the number of fishing days allowed to vessels during this year
Ross Finnie
They agued that such a step was required to take the pressure off fish stocks and allow them to recover.

The report from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (Ices) said cod stocks remained at "very low levels" despite previous conservation measures.

Monday's meeting was the start of a process which is expected to last until late December.

Mr Finnie warned ministers against "draconian" measures and appealed for a balanced approach to rebuilding fish stocks.

Speaking later, he said: "We have to apply measures which reflect the scientific advice, both for the recovery of cod stocks and for the associated stocks which we know are relatively healthy."

He said there were "substantial weaknesses" in the restrictions agreed last December.

Recovery targets

"We shall be putting forward our views on tackling these to ensure the regime is both equitable and enforceable," said Mr Finnie.

"It should not be necessary to adopt more stringent recovery targets or to reduce the number of fishing days allowed to vessels during this year.

"Our approach must be workable, equitable and capable of delivering recovery of the stocks which are in trouble."

What's so special about cod that it's got to be saved?
Billy Smith
Trawlerman
Scottish skippers, fearing the North Sea fishing grounds could be virtually closed, insist they can target haddock - which are at their best levels for 30 years - without hitting cod.

The Sea Fish Industry Authority is probing how well trawlers can bring in species, such as haddock - without landing cod.

Spokesman Jess Sparks said: "We're very much in the premlinary stages of the project. We need to complete somewhere in the order of maybe 10 or more observation trips.

"But the preliminary results are showing that in some cases skippers can fish very selectively and have a very, very minimal impact on cod. Initial figures are indicating a by-catch of cod of perhaps less than 3%."

Skipper Billy Smith is scathing of the cutback measures from scientists and EU bureaucrats.

Scientific community

He said: "I'd like to know what the big deal is about cod. What's so special about cod that it's got to be saved?

"I don't think it wants to be saved. It wants to migrate northwards. It obviously doesn't want to remain in the North Sea."

Chairman of the Scottish White Fish Producers Association, Mike Park, insisted: "The traditional Scottish industry is made up of catching haddock. We catch very little cod.

"The principle has been accepted by the commission. The principle has been accepted by the scientific community. I guess the problem they will then have is how the enforce it."




WATCH AND LISTEN
BBC Scotland's Eric Crockart
"It seems the scientists still aren't happy, and want to ban cod fishing all together"



SEE ALSO:
Cod fishing ban proposed
20 Oct 03  |  Scotland
Cod plan 'failing' communities
28 Jun 03  |  Scotland
Cod crisis 'worse than thought'
11 Jun 03  |  Europe
EU tightens cod fishing rules
06 May 03  |  Europe
'If we can't fish, we can't live'
18 Feb 03  |  England


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