Cornish boats set sail for tuna war zone: Confusion grows over limit on net length

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FOUR MORE boats from the Cornish tuna fishing fleet at Newlyn sailed for the Bay of Biscay last night amid confusion over the different methods used by British and European inspectors to measure the length of nets.

There was also growing criticism that the Government had ignored warnings it was given months ago in the House of Commons, over the potential or future conflict between Spanish and British boats. The warnings, according to Paul Tyler, the North Cornwall MP, went unheeded.

Spanish tuna fishermen, who fish the Bay of Biscay using a traditional line and pole method, claim the British are ignoring a 2.5km European Union rule limiting the length of barrier netting.

The four boats heading for the international waters of the Bay of Biscay - joining others from the small Cornish fleet - are likely to face continuing hostility from their Spanish counterparts.

One, the Alice Louise, became the second Cornish vessel advised to return to port after an inspection of its net length. An inspector from the Ministry of Fisheries and Food told the skipper that his nets were marginally over the legal length. Jeremy Hosking was warned that if he did not return home he faced prosecution.

However, Mr Hosking - preparing to return to Biscay with the same nets - yesterday told investigators from the Cornish Fish Producers' Association (CFPA) that his nets were measured by independent EU inspectors and found to be 'marginally under' the 2.5km limit. The Alice Louise's nets were re-examined by MAFF when she returned to port and were given the all-clear.

The Hosking family owns the Silver Harvester, the first Cornish vessel to clash directly with the Spanish fishermen, who cut the nets of the Newlyn-based boat. Later, the Charisma, a Newlyn boat, was ordered home after its net length was examined at sea. No charges have been brought.

Mike Townsend, chief executive of the CFPA, said: 'Our boats cannot be blamed for any of this. We went to Brussels in May with a list of six Spanish vessels fishing without licence. We were assured action would be taken. None was. Now MAFF are telling us they cannot do anything.'

Mr Townsend confirmed that different methods had been used to measure the Alice Louise's nets on three occasions.

Mr Tyler said he would again be demanding a meeting with fisheries ministers. He said a priority would be assurances that compensation claims against the Spanish for 'acts of piracy' and damage done to Cornish nets would be both guaranteed and speeded up.

The French may also have become embroiled in the fishing war yesterday after claims by Spanish radio that a French Navy ship ordered a French boat back to the port of Brest for using illegal nets. A French minstry spokeswoman in Paris could not confirm or deny the incident.