December 21, 2004

EU Fishing Talks Spark Protests

BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) -- Fishermen closed off two French ports and environmentalists dumped dead fish in front of the European Union headquarters Monday on the eve of crucial talks on catch limits for threatened species in EU waters.

The 25 EU fisheries ministers open what is usually a marathon negotiating session Tuesday t discuss proposals that would enforce unprecedented closures of northern fishing grounds to safeguard cod and other endangered species.

The proposals from the EU's head office would ban cod fishing in huge areas of the North Sea off Britain and Scandinavia and parts of the Baltic Sea.

In northern France, a traditional hotbed of activists, fishermen closed off the ports of Boulogne-sur-Mer and Dunkirk to protest the plans. There also were slowdown actions in the port of Calais.

British authorities have indicated they want to negotiate hard to keep the industry alive in northern Scotland.

For years, officials have been cutting back annual quotas throughout European waters to save once-fertile fishing grounds from commercial extinction. In the process, the industry has been losing jobs by the thousands.

Even though the proposals of the EU's executive Commission were unacceptable to the fishermen, they did not go far enough to satisfy the environmental groups.

The International Council for the Exploration of the Sea said in October that catches of cod and other fish stocks must be drastically reduced or stopped in the North Sea to help populations recover from years of overfishing.

"Every year, scientific advice to set zero quotas for certain fish species, such as cod, is ignored," Greenpeace said in a statement. The piles of dead fish and other seafood that activists dumped in front of the EU headquarters had earlier been discarded by fishermen.

The ICES independent panel has recommended a complete halt of fishing cod in the North Sea, the Irish Sea and west of Scotland, arguing stocks were seriously depleted, with 46,000 tons estimated for 2004 - less than a third of the recommended minimum of 150,000 tons.

Scientists say North Sea stocks have shrunk to about one-tenth of 1970 levels, and warned of depletion on the scale of eastern Canadian waters where cod disappeared in the 1990s and stocks have yet to recover.