A total ban is the only way to preserve Europe's fish stocks

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The Independent Online
Each year at this time, the European Agriculture and Fisheries Council meets to consider fish quotas, and each year it goes through the same depressing dance. The experts say that fish stocks are at danger point. The fisheries commissioner says that quotas have to be slashed to just a fraction of former levels. And each Christmas the ministers from the various countries hammer out a compromise that satisfies no one but puts off the evil day for another year.</p>There is no reason to believe that this year will be any different; but every imperative that it should. Of all the conservation issues facing the world, fish stocks are the starkest and most urgent. Look to Canada, or to the Mediterranean. Factory fishing reduces stocks below a certain level and what do you get? No more fish. Full stop. In the worst cases, they never recover.</p>All the evidence is that North Sea supplies of cod, and with them haddock, whiting and plaice, are down to a point when grubby compromises and shaved percentages are of no use. What is actually needed is a complete stop to the fishing of cod, and anything that involves catching cod even indirectly, from now until the balance of breeding and growth can be restored.</p>The reasons against a total ban are obvious enough, and short-sighted. The European Union is still in the mad position of subsidising shipyards to build new, bigger trawlers with one hand while trying to stop them working with the other. National ministers go to these meetings determined to go back not with an overall settlement in the region's interest but a national quota that they can claim as a victory. Even when new quotas are agreed, the problem is merely exported as the fleets go on to Africa and across the Atlantic to bring on new crises there.</p>It is probably too late to change the miserable quota-pinching this time. But if this week's meeting were to do anything worthwhile it would be this: announce clearly and definitely that, come what may, a total ban will be announced in a year's time and will be backed by action on an international scale. No buts, no ifs, no exceptions: an end to all cod fishing until the scientists give the green light to start again. </p>

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