EU seas still critically overfished, Brussels says

EU seas still critically overfished, Brussels saysBrussels  - Eighty-five per cent of European Union fish stocks are overfished, with key species such as cod critically below safe population levels, officials in Brussels said Friday.

But the EU's executive, the European Commission, still expects member states to increase catch quotas for North Sea cod next year, despite clear signs that conservation schemes are not working.

Out of 35 fish stocks examined by EU scientists this year, 30 are classified as being overfished, commission fisheries conservation chief Maria de la Fuensanta Candela Castillo said as she presented the commission's proposed quotas for 2010.

That is down from a record of 32 stocks being overfished in 2005, but up from 29 stocks last year.

"We are simply fishing too much," Candela Castillo said.

The EU sets fishing quotas for all the main fish stocks in its waters each year.

First, scientists say what level of catch would allow fish stocks to survive. The commission then proposes quotas which it thinks member states will accept, and national fisheries ministers revise the quotas in a round of fierce year-end haggling.

Under the management scheme, EU fish stocks have plummetted. North Sea cod stocks, for example, have fallen by 80 per cent since the 1970s, and are now barely a quarter of the level scientists have identified as the minimum safe population.

However, following a bumper year for fish spawning in 2005, the EU and Norway, which jointly manage the North Sea cod fishery, are likely to increase this year's quota by around 17 per cent.

It will still be possible to protect cod by keeping better track of fish caught by trawlers targeting other species, Candela Castillo said.

But a commission press release accompanying the launch said that high-tech measures aimed at doing just that "have not been enough to protect the stock and have had little effect on fishing patterns."

The commission did propose a 25-per-cent quota cut for cod in other European waters, and major cuts for species such as spiny dogfish, haddock and sole.

It proposed quota increases for fish such as herring and plaice.(dpa)