- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 29, 2002

BRUSSELS (AP) The European Union's head office announced plans for a dramatic overhaul of the 100,000-vessel fishing industry yesterday, including a call for cutting some national fleets by as much as 60 percent.
National politicians are wrangling behind the scenes in an effort to soften the measures, which could erase thousands of jobs across Europe. Fish stocks in EU waters have been vastly diminished by overfishing.
"It is make-or-break time," EU Fisheries Commissioner Franz Fischler said in presenting his proposals. "Either we make bold reforms now, or we watch the demise of our fisheries sector. The desperate race for fish has to stop."
The plan brought immediate protests from fishermen, who said it would cost far too many jobs, especially among small operators.
Across the European Union, the plan could cut the fleet of trawlers working EU waters and those off the coasts of Africa and North America by 8,600, or 8.5 percent.
The plan also calls for ending subsidies to boost fishing capacity, tighter enforcement of catch limits and closer consultation with industry leaders.
The plan would set aside $252 million to scrap hundreds of fishing boats reducing some national fleets by 60 percent by 2006 and to help those in the industry find other work.
The rules would also set new standards for the shape and size of nets to reduce the take of small fish.
Mr. Fischler said the plan would result in the withdrawal of hundreds of boats from Europe's main fishing areas, the Mediterranean, and the North Sea and Baltic Sea, as well as other fishing areas off the coasts of Africa, South America and North America.
Boat owner Ian Potterton, 40, of Grimsby, once a major fishing port on the northeast coast of England, said EU reforms were intended to push small operators like him out of business while leaving the big industrial trawlers alone.
"It should have been directed at large vessels, which have a lot of horsepower and catch lots of fish," said Mr. Potterton, who contended that cod fishing in the North Sea had been in "dire straits" for years. He blamed the European Union for not acting sooner.
"During the '70s and '80s, there used to be a massive fishery for large cod. It was basically a free-for-all, and we are paying the price for that now," he said.
The EU plan was designed to take into account the concerns of Africa and other international partners about the EU fleet, especially Spanish vessels.
Spain has the largest European fleet, with 20,000, and gets the largest part of the annual EU fishing subsidy of $555 million.
Canada singled out European trawlers, notably Spanish boats, during the turbot war in 1995, when the Canadian navy intercepted and confiscated a Spanish trawler off the coast of Newfoundland for overfishing.
Mr. Fischler said he wanted to end the "annual horse-trading" of quotas, which have continued to ignore warnings from scientists that the levels of Europe's most popular fish, including cod, haddock and hake, are at dangerously low levels.
"The effectiveness of fishing techniques means fleet catches have gone up, not down," Mr. Fischler said.
The World Wildlife Fund criticized the EU proposal, saying it did not go far enough to limit damage to fish stocks and other sea life, such as dolphins and birds, which routinely end up in illegal fishnets.


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