The European Commission said on Nov. 11 that it was considering alternatives to a total ban on cod fishing but insisted that the industry faced a tough time.
Franz Fischler, the commissioner responsible for fisheries, said he was fully conscious of the potential socio-economic impact of the current situation on some member states. But "we find ourselves between a rock and a hard place," he said in a speech in Dublin.
The commission warned at the end of October that it might have to ban cod fishing in northern European waters next year after scientists issued a dire warning over dwindling stocks.
The advice from the commission's scientific and economic committee remained clear, Fischler said Nov. 11.
"The surest way forward is a closure of the cod and associated fisheries. However, I am exploring other options where fishing for cod, haddock, whiting and other stocks could continue on a very limited level," he added.
This would only be possible if ministers agree in December on an improved recovery plan for cod, including drastic cuts in quotas, he said.
"But let me be clear: This alternative option will also mean some hardships, as the industry will be faced with substantial cuts in catches and effort reduction...We need harsh measures now because I don't want the fishermen to be traumatized later, like the fishing communities of northeast Canada 10 years ago," he said.
In October an expert report recommended closing all fisheries catching cod "either as a target species or as by-catch" in waters including the North Sea, Irish Sea and channels west of Scotland.
Fisheries around Norway, which is not a member of the EU, are also affected.
The EU's executive arm wants to retire 8,600 vessels from the community fishing fleet from 2003 through 2006 at an estimated cost of 28,000 jobs. Sixty percent of those boats would be French, Italian and Spanish.
The commission also wants to replace the current system of annual quotas, which it argues prevents long-term planning to replenish fish stocks, with multi-year targets for catches.
Brussels wants further to strengthen monitoring of fishing, complaining that fraudulent reporting by quota-dodging fishermen and illegal landings are rampant.
The commission's experts presented a report on fish stocks on Nov. 11. Fischler said officials would meet with industry representatives on Nov. 18 in Brussels to explore the options.
"I am convinced the management of stocks is only possible if all stockholders are communicating. You must have the chance to understand how scientists come to their conclusions so that the fishing communities know what is in store," he said.
But he added, "It is obvious that the measures currently used are insufficient for the conservation of species caught in mixed fisheries."