Canadians claim victory in fish war

Atlantic clash with Spain ends with `trail-blazing agreement'
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The Independent Online
Canada yesterday claimed victory in the fish war that has pitted Ottawa against Madrid and created a rift in the European Union.

After fears that stalled talks on Friday would lead to a fresh outbreak of hostilities in the Atlantic, negotiators finally dragged themselves to agreement in the early hours of yesterday morning. The deal has been virtually in the bag since Thursday, but presentational difficulties prevented the EU from agreeing until the weekend: Spain faces grave problems in selling the deal to its fishermen.

Canada's ambassador to the EU, Jacques Roy, claimed a "trail-blazing conservation agreement". The deal was "relatively positive", said Spanish fisheries minister Luis Atienza.

While Douglas Hurd, the Foreign Secretary, said: "This is a victory for negotiation and good sense to which both sides have contributed."

The British government has tried to steer a course between Canada and Spain in the dispute, because of strong anti-Spanish feeling in Britain.

The central principle which Canada wanted recognised, and which is enshrined in the deal, is the toughening of conservation rules in international waters.

Canada had enforced these unilaterally, now they are part of an international agreement. These include inspectors on all boats, satellite observation, and the banning of nets with fine mesh intended to catch young fish. Canada feared that the Greenland halibut, used mainly for food processing, was being fished to extinction and wanted to stop breaches of the rules by Spanish fishermen.

In turn, Canada has agreed to repeal the law that extends its authority into international waters, which the EU claims as a victory. It will pay back the bail posted for the trawler Estai, which it seized last month, drop all charges and pay back the cost of its catch.

This is a small price for Canada to pay for a negotiating victory. Brian Tobin, the Canadian Fisheries Minister, has achieved what everyone said was impossible - proper enforcement of the rules in international waters. The scheme may be used for other fisheries where overfishing is putting stocks at risk.

Canada agreed that Spain and Portugal could net a further 5,013 tons of fish this year. The fisheries zone has effectively been cut in two parts, with Canada taking 7,000 tons in its waters, and the EU taking part of what's left in international waters. It has won 41 per cent of the total, or about 11,000 tons if the total allowable catch remains the same in 1996 as this year. That is better than the 3,400 tons decided by Canada earlier this year, but far smaller than the proportion of fish which the EU has taken in earlier years, and less than the 50 per cent Spain set out to win.

The new quota of 11,000 tons is less than a third of what the EU was catching in the early Eighties. Only Spain and Portugal, from the EU, fish the area, and Portugal said it was very unhappy with the deal but would not veto it. Mr Atienza said Spanish boats will have to diversify into other activities.

Internal divisions have given the EU's 15 members, with Britain in particular very lukewarm about Spain's arguments. Heads of government, including Germany's Chancellor Helmut Kohl, were called in to break the deadlock, emphasising the bitterness and strength of the disagreements.

The European Commissioners involved, Emma Bonino and Sir Leon Brittan, sometimes seemed at odds in public. But in its defence, the Commission argues that with member states divided, its negotiators were operating from a position of weakness.

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