From: Raf Casert, Associated Press
Published December 21, 2005 12:00 AM

EU Fisheries Ministers open Bartering Session over Ever-Dwindling Fish Quotas

BRUSSELS, Belgium — European Union fisheries ministers opened their annual bartering session on fish quotas Tuesday, balancing the threat of rapidly shrinking stocks of such dinner favorites as cod with the economic challenges facing fishermen.


The ministers need to set the catch quotas for 2006 in EU waters amid signs that stocks continue to suffer from overfishing by an EU fleet fighting for survival.


The cod stocks in EU waters except for the Baltic Sea are "truly alarming," an EU report said. It said scientists could no longer project the amount of cod in key fishing zone, partly because of "the extremely low level of the population."


For consumers it means that flaky white cod -- once an everyman's dish -- has become a high-priced delicacy.


Because of an existing agreement, the EU head office cannot go beyond asking a 15 percent cut in total allowable catches for cod, and will demand that the ministers stick to that maximum reduction during the negotiations, which could run into Thursday.


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Since a lot of cod is also caught as a by-catch of fishermen hunting other species, the EU Commission is also seeking to cut by 15 percent the allowable catches for other fish, including whiting, flatfish and squid.


The International Council for the Exploration of the Sea advised however to implement a zero-catch policy when it comes to cod in the North and Irish Sea and west of Scotland and for hake in the Iberian Peninsula. Imposing zero catches however has been politically unsustainable.


"In proposing these limits for catches and quotas the Commission has warned that many stocks are being fished above precautionary levels and that there is a real risk of their complete collapse," said Chris Davies, the leader of the British Liberal Democrat European Parliament members.


Environmentalists already fear that cod fishing will go the same way in the EU as it did in Canada.


The collapse of cod stocks off Newfoundland and Nova Scotia changed the marine ecosystem so dramatically that it may be impossible for cod to recover, according to a study by Canadian scientists earlier this year. Its population on the Scotian Shelf has plunged 96 percent since the 1850s because of overfishing.


"Basically, we are losing cod in Europe in the same way," said Saskia Richartz, a Greenpeace policy adviser.


Outside EU headquarters, protesters from the WWF environmental group, calling for measures to counter the increasing fishing for deep-sea stocks because of the dwindling of coastal fish species.


Source: Associated Press


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