Paris on Tuesday watered down, but did not block altogether, European Union efforts to save threatened fish stocks. With 3,000 French jobs dependent on trapping deep-sea delicacies – including orange roughey, shark and blue ling – plans to ban catches of such fish in EU Atlantic waters within three years were staggered over four years instead.
Scientists say many of the species are so scarce they have little idea how many are left and have recommended an immediate end to fishing.
France, which has the only significant deep-sea fishing industry in the EU, allied with Spain and Poland to delay the quota cuts. Green groups accused the EU of hyprocrisy after it last week agreed with Russia and others to suspend catching orange roughey in international waters immediately.
“It is contradictory,” said Carol Phua of the World Wildlife Fund. “Europeans are happy to stop people doing it abroad but not in their home waters. It is going to be too late for these fish.” A European diplomat said: “These are fish that live for 40 years before they reproduce, so you don’t have to catch many to wipe them out.”
Ministers also agreed to reduce net mesh sizes in the Mediterranean, after three years of deadlock. However, a loophole could allow the reintroduction of 6km-long drift nets, banned since 2002. France is already exempt from the ban. Illegal fishing has decimated stocks of Mediterranean bluefin tuna.
Governments also backed use of satellite technology to track illegal fishing vessels and will substitute electronic reporting for traditional log books filled in by fishermen, making it easier to detect quota violations.
Some restaurants have stopped serving tuna. “If we eat too much bluefin tuna today, there will be none left tomorrow,” said Caroline Bennett, owner of Moshi Moshi, the UK sushi chain.
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