Stocks of cod and hake close to 'total collapse', warns EU

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The Independent Online

The government yesterday said it will accept some of the most drastic curbs on fishing rights ever proposed as part of a Europe-wide effort to avert a total collapse of cod stocks.

The government yesterday said it will accept some of the most drastic curbs on fishing rights ever proposed as part of a Europe-wide effort to avert a total collapse of cod stocks.

Elliot Morley, the Fisheries minister, said at talks in Brussels: "If nothing is done there is a danger of collapse; that is why doing nothing is not an option."

"There is very clear recognition that cod and hake stocks are in very poor shape."

So severe are the warnings from some scientists that the European commissioner for fisheries, Franz Fischler, is reviewing the whole range of technical measures, from the use of nets which favour selective catches, to more fishing-free zones.

Mr Fischler said yesterday "scientific advice paints a depressing picture ... There are difficult times ahead."

Although a year-long ban on cod fishing is one of the options being debated, it was described as unlikely by Mr Morley, who favours bans on specific areas where there is a high concentration of spawning stock or of young fish. He said: "We're not thinking in terms of a one-year ban on cod."

Yesterday's meeting comes a month before a crucial gathering of EU ministers which will set the quotas for next year. The curbs being planned could devastate parts of Britain's fishing fleet, particularly in Scotland, and make into a rarity the species of choice in one of its staple foods: fish and chips.

Specialists say there is no alternative to severe measures; scientists advising the European Commission have warned that in some areas stocks are so low they may never recover. They warn that the depletion of the cod stocks recall the collapse on Canada's eastern seaboard that forced a ban on the once-lucrative fisheries in 1992 and wiped out 42,000 jobs.

In addition to the problems with cod, hake and whiting, Brussels wants reduced fishing of haddock, saithe, plaice and sole. The maximum cod catch in the North Sea was cut by 40 per cent to 80,000 tonnes this year but fishermen failed to land much more than 60 per cent of that figure. In the 1980s the total cod catch was about 300,000 tonnes.

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