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EU seeks more limits on Baltic cod fishing to battle depletion

The commission, responsible for coordinating fishing policy among the 25 European Union nations, yesterday proposed quotas to ease the rate at which cod stocks are declining by 10% a year and raised catches of other types of fish. The commission also wants to reduce the number of fishing days for larger nets in the Baltic, the largest body of brackish water in the world and the youngest sea on the planet. „This proposal confirms our commitment to the application of a gradual approach which aims to help rebuild cod stocks and protect those stocks which are in a healthier state while keeping economic pressure on the sector as low as possible,” EU Fisheries Commissioner Joe Borg said in a statement in Brussels. The EU is seeking to balance the decimation of deep-sea stocks against the commercial needs of the industry, which employs 250,000 fishermen. While limits on catches may lead to job losses, scientists say fishermen are bringing in so much cod from the eastern Baltic, adjacent to Sweden, Finland, Estonia and Latvia, that the region's entire industry may collapse. Over the objections of governments including Sweden, fisheries ministers last December agreed to allow more cod to be caught in the Baltic Sea as countries such as Poland lobbied against Borg's efforts to tighten restrictions. The Polish fleet accounts for about a third of the cod catch in the sea, according to global conservation group WWF.

To provide stability, the commission yesterday said cod catch quotas will be lowered up to 15% in 2007. In addition, a three-month ban on cod fishing with certain lines and larger nets in the eastern Baltic, and a two-month ban in the west, will be extended by cutting the remaining fishing days by 10% a year until targets on depletion rates are met. The current cod quota in the eastern Baltic is 45,339 metric tons and in the western part of the sea, 28,400 tons. Under yesterday's proposal, the catch will be scaled back next year to 38,522 tons of eastern cod and 24,140 tons of western cod. Salmon catches, measured in number of fish rather than weight, will be reduced 20% to 361,001 from the current 451,260. The commission proposed raising herring and sprat catches and leaving plaice catches unchanged. About 81% of fish species in European waters are over-fished, according to the commission. The EU supplies roughly 5% of all fisheries products, making it the third-largest producer in the world after China and Peru.

EU governments will set initial quotas next month and the measures should be ready for approval by EU agriculture and fishery ministers in October or November. They need majority approval and will take effect on Jan. 1. The commission is seeking to limit annual depletion rates of western Baltic cod to 0.6% and to 0.3% for eastern Baltic code to allow rebuilding to a sustainable level. In June, the EU agreed to pay fishermen € 3.8 billion ($4.9 billion) through 2013 to install more fuel-efficient engines and to compensate them for reducing their catch. The funding is also designed to encourage early retirement and promote fish-farming. (Bloomberg)