Danish fleet retreats in fish battle

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The Independent Online
A renewed battle between Greenpeace protesters and Danish fishermen ended last night after the Danes appeared to pull out of waters off Scotland's east coast.

According to Greenpeace, the trawlermen decided to withdraw while a complaint to Scottish fishery protection officials that they were being prevented from fishing was dealt with.

Spokesman Phil Aikman, aboard the Greenpeace vessel MV Sirius, said nine fishing boats had left an area 25 miles north-east of Dunbar, and protesters were checking to see if they had moved on to other fishing grounds.

The battle, over allegations that foreign trawlers were "hoovering" the sea-bed, resumed earlier yesterday when Greenpeace returned to the area from which activists said they had been chased on Friday by Danish boats fishing for sand-eels.

Leading environmental groups have joined forces with fishermen's organisations in a call for action on industrial fishing. In a statement in today's Independent, the alliance urges Tony Baldry, the Fisheries Minister, to protect the marine environment on the Wee Bankie off the Scottish east coast and other areas of the North Sea.

The statement says: "Recognising the importance of protecting the marine environment and conserving fish feeding, spawning and nursery grounds, we call on the UK government to ensure that urgent measures are taken to control industrial fishing in sensitive areas."

The advertisement coincides with an eight-week battle between Greenpeace and a fleet of Danish vessels off Scotland's east coast in which protesters have been trying to stop the fishing of sand-eels.

"Dolphins, Minke whales and seabirds depend on these sand-eels. This area is their feeding ground," said Chris Rose, of Greenpeace. "The vessels also catch baby haddocks and cods which they don't need anyway. Fishermen are dependent upon these fish. So apart from endangering the environment, these vessels are also threatening the business of fishermen." He added that companies could use vegetable oil instead of the fish oil they retrieved from the sand-eels.

The alliance also includes Friends of the Earth, RSCPA, The Wildlife Trust, Alex Falconer MEP, and several Scottish fishing associations.

A naval fishery protection vessel patrolling the area had earlier sought an assurance from the demonstrators that they would keep two miles clear of the Danish boats, said Mr Aikman. But activists replied that they intended to continue "non violent direct action".

Before the Danes moved out, Greenpeace said it had two inflatables trying to prevent any vessel from setting its nets, but the Sirius stayed two miles away from the inflatables.

Greenpeace claims that legal "hoover-type" fishing, mainly by Danes, threatens a major feeding area for commercial fish stocks, birds and dolphins.

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