EU unveils "precautionary" 1999 fishing quotas

Member states reported "realistic" about need for cuts; "almighty row" predicted over tuna

Drastic cuts in allowable catches of threatened fish species in EU waters in 1999 were proposed by the European Commission on Friday. Cuts of over 20% in total EU catch sizes have been proposed for species such as herring, cod, haddock, sole and sprat in various fishing grounds. For Norwegian lobster, whiting and saithe, cuts of 40 to 47% in specific areas have been proposed.

The proposed limits reflect advice from EU and international scientists recommending "urgent measures" to protect fish stocks. However, with a duty also to consider the health of the EU fishing sector, the Commission says it has held back from proposing more severe cuts except where fish stocks are in danger of collapse.

Environmental group the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) said today that scientists had been asking for slightly larger reductions but that the Commission appeared to have tried to follow their advice. "It really does seem to have gone for a precautionary approach," a spokesperson told ENDS Daily.

Ministers are due to give their verdict on the proposal and to decide on allocation of quotas between member states on 17 December. Government officials held an initial debate about the Commission's proposal last week. According to one participant, member states are taking a "surprisingly responsible" approach to the issue. While all states are expected to call for increased catches for some species, most are said to accept that there is scientific evidence to justify some of the more drastic cuts proposed.

Part of the "realism" is attributed to a series of recent high-profile meetings of North Sea fisheries and environment ministers in Denmark and Norway, where they pledged to protect marine habitats and fisheries (ENDS Daily 17 June 1998).

Related to the discussion about EU catch sizes, officials are predicting an "almighty political row" between Mediterranean states over the fishing of bluefin tuna. This follows blatant overfishing of the tuna by Italy and Greece, which has led them to exceed binding quotas set by the International Convention for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (Iccat). To compensate, Iccat has allocated dramatically lower quotas to the two countries for next year, which would effectively bar them from fishing tuna at all.

In an attempt to deal with the situation, the EU is proposing that France and Spain should share some of their quota with them - a prospect that is proving difficult for them to swallow.

Follow Up:
European Commission, tel: +32 2 295 1111; WWF, tel: +32 2 743 8800.

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