Moves to end hostilities in Euro fish quota war

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The Independent Online
Agreement to end hostilities over fish "quota hopping" could be finalised within weeks, the Government indicated yesterday, after British ministers held talks in Brussels with Emma Bonino, the Fisheries Commissioner.

The announcement shows that the Government is already achieving concrete results after its drive to establish more cooperative relations with the European Union.

Confirmation of a breakthrough, predicted in The Independent, in the long-standing quota-hopping row came after Ms Bonino discussed Commission ideas for curbing quota-hopping, with Jack Cunningham, Minister for Agriculture Fisheries and Food, and Elliot Morley, the Fisheries Minister.

Mr Cunningham immediately announced that British officials would begin negotiations with the European Commission to seek a "common way forward in trying to resolve the problems." Ms Bonino's reaction to the British government's concerns had been "very positive," added Mr Cunningham.

The ideas for a solution discussed by the two sides yesterday centred on ensuring that, in future, vessels fishing the British fish quota should have strong economic links to a British region or port.

Similar suggestions were made by the Ms Bonino to the previous Conservative government but they were rejected - apparently, say Commission officials, because "there was no interest in a deal."

Ms Bonino favours establishing a regime whereby vessels are obliged to land a certain percentage of their catch at a British port. Other means of ensuring an economic link with a British locality are also being discussed.

The British ministers clearly believe that a solution to the problem can be achieved along these lines, and must now begin the task of persuading the British fishing industry. "Quota-hoppers ought to be linked to ports through regulation of landings or ownership," said Mr Morley.

An attempt by the previous government to wipe out quota- hopping altogether, by virtually outlawing all foreign ownership of British-registered trawlers, was ruled unlawful by the European Court.

The ministers emphasised that nothing could be done to remove the fishing rights of Spanish or Dutch fishermen, who had already bought their boats and licenses quite legally from British fishermen.