From: Reuters
Published November 28, 2007 12:00 PM

EU cod fishermen face 25 percent quota cut

By Jeremy Smith

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Most of Europe's cod fishermen should face a 25 percent cut in their catches next year according to European Commission recommendations aimed at preserving the species after years of heavy exploitation.

The North Sea was the only area where numbers of young cod had improved slightly and so next year's catch could be raised by 11 percent, the Commission said in quota recommendations issued on Wednesday.

"Cod, other than in the North Sea, is still in an extremely low state of conservation," said Ernesto Penas Lado, head of the Commission's fisheries conservation unit.

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The quota rise for the North Sea, agreed with non-EU member Norway earlier this week for catches in shared waters, was conditional on a 10 percent reduction in the number of unwanted fish dumped overboard.

The quota recommendations will be debated by EU fisheries ministers in mid-December at a meeting that often runs into the night as countries haggle to get the best deal for the species that interest their national fleets most.

Scientists have warned for years that cod is so seriously overfished in EU waters that it runs the risk of extinction due to stock collapse. In October, they called for the EU to set next year's catch at less than half of 2006 levels.

"Full recovery of the stock needs time and it is not by allowing fishermen to take more young fish, through higher quotas, that the situation will improve," said Carol Phua, fisheries policy officer at conservation group WWF.

"In fact, with juvenile fish being caught, in a few years the situation will just be worse," she said.

Last year, the Commission also called for 25 percent cuts in cod quotas for most areas although this was watered down by EU ministers to reductions of between 15 and 20 percent.

During the year, national fleets gradually fill their catch allowances and are then ordered to stop fishing for particular species in a designated area. Many EU states exceed their allowances anyway so the Commission proposes more quota cuts.

Commission fisheries experts recommended 2008 quota cuts for many other species.

Proposed quota cuts for herring and sole ranged up to 25 percent depending on area. Those for the threatened Norway lobster, which looks somewhat like a large prawn or a small lobster, would be set 15 percent lower in Iberian waters.

The Commission recommended quota increases for species whose numbers were rising -- including an 18 percent rise for plaice in the Bristol Channel and waters off southeastern Ireland. There would be increases of 15 percent for haddock caught off the west coast of Scotland and for hake off the Atlantic coasts of Portugal and Spain.

(Editing by Matthew Tostevin)

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