However, the row between Brussels and Ottawa over fishing rights near Canadian waters showed no sign of abating as Spain prepared to send a second frigate to the area.
The EU appears to have been caught off guard by Canada's seizure of the Estai, which was fishing for Greenland halibut 28 miles outside Canada's 200-mile limit. The European ambassadors meeting yesterday appeared to want to play for time, saying there could be no negotiations until the trawler is "liberated unconditionally".
Behind the EU's indecision lies uncertainty about the legal position. Canada yesterday continued to insist it was justified in seizing the Estai, which had breached a moratorium on fishing in the area pending resolution of a dispute on quotas. Canada fears stocks of Greenland halibut could be wiped out if the EU's demand for a more sizeable quota is met. The Europeans say Canada's action was without justification.
Javier Solana, the Spanish foreign minister, said Spain had started procedures to lodge a formal complaint at the International Court of Justice in The Hague. Spain has suspended all bilateral visits with Canada and wants the EU to do the same.
t Spanish fishermen were portrayed yesterday in the House of Commons as little more than pirates plundering the world's fish stocks as MPs on both sides sided with Canada in the Estai dispute, writes Stephen Goodwin. The Government was repeatedly warned by MPs not to join in any EU sanctions against Canada. Peter Shore, the former Labour cabinet minister, said: "When it comes to over-fishing, few countries have a worse record than Spain." The fisheries minister, Michael Jack, had "some sympathy" with the Canadians but said they should not take the law of into their own hands.
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