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EU unveils action plan to aid Mediterranean fishing

EU unveils action plan to aid Mediterranean fishing
BRUSSELS - Tighter controls to keep young fish out of commercial nets and wider protection zones to stop overfishing are needed to halt a perilous decline in Mediterranean Sea stocks, the European Union said.
\"We have an ambitious action plan for fisheries in the Mediterranean. Everyone concerned is very worried about stocks,\" European Farm and Fisheries Commissioner Franz Fischler told a news conference where he unveiled the Mediterranean proposals. Nearly all the fish caught in the Mediterranean are sold for human consumption. Fischler singled out blue whiting, shrimp, sea bass and sole as species where stocks were under threat. \"The catches have all diminished and we need to respond to the problem,\" he said. The Mediterranean Sea is a flashpoint in wider talks to reform the EU\'s fishing policy. It is also home to nearly half the EU\'s fishing fleet in boat numbers and the fishing industry there provides more than 100,000 jobs. Fishing zones are shared between many countries and tourism also puts pressure on coastal zones. Among the action points to stop the damage, the Commission proposed enlarged fisheries protection zones to harmonise the different limits applied by member states. At present, these zones vary from six nautical miles in Greece to 12 in France, Spain and Italy. One advantage of this would be to apply control of fishing activities over a wider area, deterring illegal practices that harm the sea\'s natural resources, the plan said. It also calls for measures to tighten the selective control of fishing tackle so that smaller species and younger fish were not included in more commercial catches such as cod. \"The aim of the measures will be to increase the selectivity of fishing gear so as to catch as few young fish as possible and reduce the amount of discards,\" the plan said. The reform proposals include an emergency scrapping programme to tackle excess fleet capacity and the phasing out of public subsidies for new vessels. The Commission wants this plan approved by the bloc\'s 15 member states by the end of this year. If implemented, the proposals would also establish emergency recovery programmes for endangered stocks, end the annual haggling over fishing quotas and devolve greater responsibility for fisheries management to regional bodies. Fischler denied his plan was aimed at helping persuade six mostly southern European states to accept his plans for a wide reform of the EU\'s common fisheries policy. The group - France, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Portugal and Spain - see the planned reform as an attempt by Brussels to try to take too much control over quotas. They also dislike its idea of removing subsidies to build new vessels. \"It\'s not a question of making any gesture towards those countries, it\'s a question of doing what is necessary,\" Fischler said of his Mediterranean plans. Story by Jeremy Smith REUTERS NEWS SERVICE
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