Election '97 : Britain likely to be net loser in EU fishery deal

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The Independent Online
The Government looks set to be outmanoeuvred today when EU ministers impose huge fleet cuts on Britain without providing any commitment to outlawing quota-hopping in negotiations on a new EU treaty. After months of deadlock a majority of the 15 fisheries ministers is expected to back fleet cuts of up to 20 per cent under controversial long- term plans to save endangered stocks.

If, as expected, the Fisheries Commissioner, Emma Bonino, agrees to scale down her original demands for 40-per- cent cuts in response to pressure from other member-states, Britain will be unable to veto a binding deal. Fisheries minister Tony Baldry repeated the Government's insistence that "UK fish are for UK fishermen" and that Britain would implement no new fleet reductions until the legal anomaly which permits non-British fishermen to fish from British quotas is addressed. He said a quarter of all boats over 26m registered in the UK were quota-hoppers.

But his demands received short shrift as other ministers indicated they wanted to hammer out details of a fleet-cuts deal by the time talks end later today. Spanish minister Loyola de Palacio spoke scathingly of British calls for a ban on Spanish skippers exercising their legal right to purchase UK- registered trawlers sold on the open market. "We (the Spanish) respect free trade and the single market. What surprises me is the totally protectionist view of a member-state that claims to champion free trade".

Ms Bonino voiced disappointment with member-states' demands for a scaling down of the fleet-reduction targets but remained hopeful an an accord would be brokered today.

Ministers held a first round of talks last night which saw some support for French- and German-led proposals to scale down the Commission's proposals to 20-per-cent cuts for the most depleted stocks such as cod in the west of Scotland and the Irish Sea; and 15 per cent for "overfished" species including haddock and whiting in western waters. Targets would be achieved by a combination of laying up trawlers and new restrictions on fishing such as forcing boats to tie up for a certain number of days a year.

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