Greenpeace lose round one in battle of sand eels

Attempt to drive off Danish fleet is failure, writes Nicholas Schoon
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The Independent Online
Greenpeace found itself outnumbered and on the run yesterday, as it continued trying to stop a fleet of Danish trawlers catching thousands of tonnes of sand eels off the Scottish coast.

But the environmental group said it had no intention of withdrawing its ship Sirius from the Wee Bankie near Dundee, where it has been engaged in four days of running battles with the boats of the industrial fishery.

Greenpeace is trying to prevent 24 Danish vessels setting and towing their fine-meshed nets along the bank, which is at the entrance of the Firth of Forth. The furious fishermen have fired distress flares at its high speed inflatables, attempted to slash them and chased the Sirius, which can move just faster than them.

''We don't want them catching us,'' said one of the crew by satellite telephone. ''How would you like to be boarded and punched?'' A Royal Navy fisheries protection vessel, HMS Shetland, has been observing the latest clashes but has not intervened.

The campaigners are demanding an end to the unregulated industrial fishing of the tiny sandeels and other small fish, claiming that this threatens the food supplies of larger fish like cod, seabirds, whales and dolphins and the North Sea's ecological balance.

They have chosen the Wee Bankie because it has only been heavily fished for sand eels recently and is heavily used by large seabird colonies nesting on the nearby coast.

The UK Government has been calling for regulation and quotas in this fishery, which only a few British trawlers are involved in. Greenpeace campaigner Chris Rose said he was disappointed that ministers showed no inclination to take any prompt action against the Danish fleet.

The group has obtained an opinion from barristers specialising in environmental law which says the Government could close fishing grounds on the Wee Bankie.

Denmark is Europe's biggest practitioner of industrial fishing. Its big trawlers use large, very fine nets and advanced computer equipment to catch the bottom-dwelling fish which are processed into meal and oil. Half the weight of fish caught from the North Sea fall into this category. Danish fishermen's leaders have accused Greenpeace of putting lives at risk with their obstruction tactics. Another Greenpeace vessel, Arctic Sunrise, has arrived in the area as back up.

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