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EU round up -plaice and sole conservation stocks.

THE EUROPEAN Parliament has intervened in detailed debates over the restoration of North Sea plaice and sole stocks, accusing the European Commission of failing to listen to expertise within the fishing industry. In a comprehensive set of amendments to Brussels' proposed conservation plan, the parliament has claimed the Commission is guilty of "totally ignoring the North Sea Regional Advisory Council (NSRAC)", and in this way "has missed an opportunity to generate support for its own policy", instead indulging in top-down policy dictates that were supposed to be a thing of the past.

As a result the parliament has proposed revamping the conservation plan, saying if the spawning stock of plaice and sole is estimated by the Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries (STECF) at less than agreed safe levels of 230,000 and 35,000 tons respectively, European Union (EU) ministers shall set a TAC (total allowable catch) quotas for three years ensuring "there is a reasonable likelihood that stocks will be restored to the precautionary level".

Furthermore, MEPs are also pushing the Commission to ultimately phase out beam trawl fishing often used for plaice and sole, which they claim overly damages the marine environment. To back this up, the parliament has called on the Commission to stage "in-depth studies" into the impact of beam trawls, then drawing up an action plan promoting research into low-impact fishing methods and gear. This would set guidelines for phasing out of methods and gear "which have a negative impact on ecosystems", with changeovers being financed by the European Fisheries Fund.

Elsewhere, at a European Parliament fisheries committee on blue fin tuna heard warnings that Mediterranean stocks were being over-fished, with fish farming being blamed for a looming shortage. Marta Crespo, from the Almadraba Fish Producers' Organisation said more efficient farming methods had caused bluefin tuna prices to drop, leading fishermen to increase catches to make a living, creating a "vicious cycle". The result is that "approximately 50,000 tons of tuna are caught every year, while about 25,000 tons would be sustainable," said Enrique Rodriguez Mann, of the Spanish Oceanographic Institute.

Meanwhile, the parliament is also involving itself in the debate on shark fins. It has called on Brussels to freeze the current maximum 5% fin-body weight ratio for EU fishing fleets "until a comprehensive review of scientific studies of shark fin to carcass ratios could be concluded by the Commission". Deliberate harvesting of shark fins is banned in the EU, but when sharks are caught as by-catch, fins can be removed on board to assist carcass processing.

Looking outside EU waters, the Commission has asked EU ministers to approve its recently negotiated fishing access deal with Mauritania. In a memorandum, it stressed the agreement would "strengthen cooperation [with] Mauritania... to develop a sustainable fisheries policy and sound exploitation of fisheries resources."

Also, the Commission has ordered that Brazilian-exported fish will henceforth be tested and certified to show that they do not contain excess levels of the allergen histamine, following concerns about contamination of imports into the EU.
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Author:Nuthall, Keith
Publication:International News
Date:Sep 1, 2006
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