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October 18, 2009

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EU seeks cuts in catch to save cod

THE European Union's executive body is calling for sharp cuts in the amount of cod fishermen can catch next year, pointing to estimates that the fish is close to extinction in some major fishing areas around Europe.

Officials warned on Friday that only steep catch cuts will stop the disappearance of a species prized for centuries for its flaky white flesh.

The European Commission said recent studies showed cod catches in some areas far outstrip the rate of reproduction.

It is calling for up to 25 percent cuts in some areas.

"We are not that far away from a situation of complete collapse," said Jose Rodriguez, a marine biologist with the environmental group Oceana.

He and other environmentalists said pressure from the fishing industry had kept quotas at levels too high to sustain a viable populations around Europe, while lack of enforcement meant illegal fishing made the problem worse.

Fishing grounds

Scientists estimated that in the 1970s there were more than 250,000 tons of cod in fishing grounds in the North Sea, eastern English Channel and Scandinavia's Skagerrak strait. In recent years, however, stocks have dropped to 50,000 tons.

The European Commission said Friday it would seek in 2010 to cut the catch in some fishing grounds around Britain, France, Spain and much of Scandinavia from 5,700 tons to 4,250 tons.

In the Mediterranean, bluefin tuna has been overfished for years to satisfy increasing world demand for sushi and sashimi.

The tuna population is now a fraction of what it was a few decades ago, but the EU's Mediterranean nations last month refused to impose even a temporary ban.

Oceana estimated that illegal fishing doubled the amount of tuna caught.

Meanwhile cod, which once sustained vibrant fishing communities from Portugal to Britain to Canada, is increasingly consumed by the ton as salt cod and fish-and-chips.

"People don't ask for fish and chips, they ask for cod and chips," said Mike Guo, a manager at Great Fish and Chips in Essex, England.

"It's a traditional dish."

The depletion of the species has caused the decay and disappearance of hundreds of fishing villages on both sides of the Atlantic.


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