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Europe urged to curb Mediterranean fishing

Europe’s fisheries chief has appealed to EU governments to stop 15 years of bickering over how to curb Mediterranean overfishing and prevent a string of species from disappearing from its waters.
/ Source: Reuters

Europe’s fisheries chief has appealed to EU governments to stop 15 years of bickering over how to curb Mediterranean overfishing and prevent a string of species from disappearing from its waters.

Scientists have warned for years that species such as hake, swordfish, octopus and sardines -- favorites on dinner tables in many Mediterranean countries -- are on the danger list.

EU ministers failed again in September to agree on rules that would have made Mediterranean fishermen use nets with larger holes so that younger fish have a better chance to escape, thus allowing numbers to recover.

The proposal from the EU’s executive Commission also set minimum distances for trawlers from coastal zones that are habitats for sensitive wildlife and fish.

The opposition was led by France and Italy, which complained of the threat to local industries whose livelihoods depend on small-scale fishing.

EU Fisheries Commissioner Joe Borg, in a letter sent to the same 25 ministers, said the failure to agree would just make life worse for the region’s fishermen in the long run.

“This lost opportunity will mean further stock depletion in the Mediterranean. By not taking action now, we are only making future measures more difficult to take, and fishermen will thank no one for that,” Borg said in the letter, obtained by Reuters.

“No one can argue against the need to take action ... all available data show that we have less fish, smaller catches, lower catch rates and excessive catches of small immature fish.”

More exotic species like the musky and horned octopus and spiny lobster are also threatened and catches have slumped since the mid-1990s.

In the Adriatic and strait of Sicily, catches for some species are 60 percent lower than they were 20 years ago. Overfishing has been a problem in nearly all EU waters over the last decade, particularly of species like cod and hake.

While ministers have eventually agreed tough cuts in annual fishing quotas at a marathon meeting in December, the Mediterranean has largely escaped unscathed -- annoying the Commission, which has repeatedly tried to put controls in place.

More than 100,000 fishermen make their living from the Mediterranean, using mostly small boats. France, Italy, Spain, Portugal and Greece all fish in the Mediterranean as do Cyprus, Malta and Slovenia.

Europe’s row over Mediterranean fishery controls has been rumbling on for some 15 years.

The Commission, which offered the Mediterranean countries a raft of technical amendments to get them to sign up to the new rules, had now reached the limit of its flexibility, Borg said.

“Any more concessions would have made the regulation toothless in terms of achieving sustainable fisheries. The Commission has reached its bottom line,” he said.