From: Michael McDonough, Associated Press
Published December 7, 2004 12:00 AM

Experts Urge Action to Save Threatened Fish Species in British Waters

LONDON − Fishing should be banned in almost a third of British waters to protect the marine environment and save threatened fish species, a panel of experts said Tuesday.


Decades of intensive fishing have depleted fish stocks, but measures to protect marine life are so far inadequate, the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution concluded.


"Intervention ... is necessary to preserve important ecosystems and to break the present cycle of unrealistic quotas and diminishing fish populations," commission chairman Sir Tom Blundell said.


The government responded, however, that current measures to restore cod stocks should be given more time to have an impact before more radical policies are adopted.


"If we did what he is suggesting now, we would put the whole of the Scottish white fishing industry out of business," Fisheries Minister Ben Bradshaw told British Broadcasting Corp. radio. "There are signs that cod has stopped declining and other stocks like haddock are at record highs."


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The European Commission, the executive body of the European Union, is expected to approve a set of proposals for reform of EU fishing policy on Wednesday.


John Farnell, director of the Commission's fish conservation unit, said the proposals would likely involve closing the best 40 percent of cod-fishing areas in the North Sea. But he described the call to close 30 percent of British waters to fishing as a "a very blunt instrument."


Prince Charles gave support to Blundell's position, saying overfishing would become a "major global catastrophe for the world's growing population" if left unchecked, according to The Daily Telegraph newspaper on Monday.


In the Royal Commission report, Blundell said the sea should be treated the same way as endangered land habitats. The report proposes a range of measures to protect the marine environment, including a ban on deep-sea fishing, arguing that deep sea fish are particularly at risk.


Scientists say stocks of cod have shrunk in the North Sea to about one-tenth of 1970 levels. They point to the waters off eastern Canada, where years of overfishing resulted in the disappearance of cod during the 1990s. The stocks have not recovered.


Last year, EU fisheries ministers agreed on some long-term measures to protect dwindling stocks while ignoring scientific advice for a total ban on catches of some species, in a bid to preserve fishing fleets.


Source: Associated Press


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