`End in sight' to fish feud

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The Independent Online
CANADA and the European Union reached agreement late last night to end their North Atlantic fishing row, according to diplomatic sources quoted by the French news agency, Agence France Presse.

No details of the agreement were released but the Canadian Fisheries Minister Brian Tobin was reported to be scheduling a press conference early today to announce details. Representatives from the 15 EU member states were to gather to endorse the deal, the sources said.

Other reports anticipating today's meeting made no mention of the Canadian- Spanish accord.

Earlier, the threat of a fresh outbreak of Atlantic hostilities between Canada and Spain was raised as negotiations in Brussels stalled and Canada threatened to seize more Spanish vessels. Mr Tobin, who has stoked the conflict throughout, said that action against Spanish fishing boats was imminent.

"Set your alarm clocks," he said, in a grim warning that fisheries vessels would again set out to cut the nets of boats off the Newfoundland coast. Net-cutting risks injury or even death to men on the trawlers.

Mr Tobin's anger was sparked by the failure of the 15 European Union nations to agree a deal when they met late on Friday night. All but the last details were in place, diplomats said, but there was still dissension over the precise share-out of the catch for this year, and the EU was still trying to win concessions from other countries fishing the area for the next few years.

The biggest stalling point, diplomats said, was that Spain and Portugal had to be sure that they could sell the deal at home. The package divides the fishing grounds into two areas, one essentially Canadian, the other international. The EU would get an increased share of the fish in the international zone, allowing Spain to claim a form of victory; Canada would secure the waters closer to its coastline, as well as tougher enforcement of the rules.

Spain had pressed for the EU to get 50 per cent of the catch of Greenland halibut, or about 13,500 tonnes this year; but it looks as if it will get closer to 42 per cent, or 11,400, partly by re-allocating the quotas for other countries, such as Russia and Poland.

There is still disagreement on how much of the fish remains to be caught this year. The catch for next year has yet to be set, and EU negotiators are still trying to win extra quotas from the other countries.

Anger is growing in Britain, too, with a Spanish trawler seized on Friday. The 100ft Chimbote was suspected of illegal fishing and was escorted into Plymouth by the Royal Navy vessel HMS Shetland. British boats have encountered difficulties in French waters after flying Canadian flags.