EU ministers starting their annual haggle over fishing quotas were presented with a stark reminder of calls for Europe's dwindling fish stocks to be protected when environmentalists built a wall across the office block where the talks were taking place yesterday.
Representatives of the 27 European Union governments will spend the next two days in Brussels thrashing out fishing limits to apply for the next 12 months, amid concerns that scientific advice to maintain strict limits on dangerously depleted species, in particular cod, will be relaxed to appease the fishing industry.
Conservationists say this year's talks are particularly important after the latest research reported a modest recovery of cod numbers in some European fishing grounds. The study has been held up by EU ministers as justifying a proposal to increase the North Sea cod quota by 11 per cent.
To underline the conservationists' point that a general recovery can now only be secured by blocking off fishing in a network of marine reserves, about 200 demonstrators from Greenpeace stormed the EU's Council of Ministers building in the Belgian capital yesterday and constructed a 30 metre-long and 2.5 metre-high breeze-block wall in front of the doors to the complex. It was decked with a banner carrying the slogan: "Shut down until fish stocks recover."
Willie Mackenzie, Greenpeace's oceans campaigner in Brussels, said: "Every year these bungling bureaucrats preside over the decimation of Europe's fish stocks, ignoring the advice of their own scientists and set fishing quotas which will only push species like cod further towards extinction.
"Environment ministers must step in to protect cod and defend the oceans, starting by listening to the scientific advice. They must also establish a network of large-scale fully protected marine reserves."
The International Council for the Exploration of the seas, the Copenhagen-based body that advises the EU on fish stocks, reported in October an increase in the number of young cod in the North Sea. But its scientists said that stocks were still half the long-term average and called for a new quota of half the 2006 catch.
The European Commission has instead watered down that proposal to an overall cod reduction of 25 per cent and an increase of 11 per cent in the North Sea.
But an EC spokesman pointed yesterday to "tough" action on other endangered stocks, with a 41 per cent cut in North Sea herring, a 32 per cent cut in blue whiting and 15 per cent reductions in North Sea plaice and sole. The cuts are likely to anger hard-pressed fishermen and lead to further arguments over financial security against environmental protection.
What you can eat sustainably
By Martin Hickman
Pollack Alternative to cod championed by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, caught off the coast of Britain and Alaska, where it is certified by the Marine Stewardship Council. Good for grilling.
Ling A versatile plentiful whitefish suitable for grilling, deep-frying and baking.
Red gurnard Flakes into large pieces like cod. Cook in the oven with spices, or add it to pies and soups.
Megrim sole Flat fish similar to lemon sole ideal for classic fish soup.
Mackerel The fish with the most omega-3 oil; may be grilled or pan-fried.
Herring Another oily fish with sweet, delicate flesh. Pickle or grill whole.
Sardines Caught off the coast of Cornwall and formerly called pilchards. Add to pizzas or serve whole with lemon and chips.
Sprats Small oily fish; good for grilling whole and baking.
Whitebait Another small fish resembling anchovies; ideal for deep-frying.Reuse content