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EU parliament approves Morocco fisheries deal
by Staff Writers
Strasbourg, France (AFP) Dec 10, 2013

EU parliament rejects ban on bottom-fishing trawlers
Strasbourg, France (AFP) Dec 10, 2013 - The European Parliament narrowly rejected Tuesday a ban on bottom-fishing trawlers, blamed by environmentalists for massive deep-sea destruction but defended by France and Spain.

Lawmakers voted down the ban by 342 votes to 326, backing a compromise motion by the main Conservative and Socialist groups to regulate the sector more closely so as to protect vulnerable habitats.

Bottom fishing with heavy trawl nets scoops up everything on the seabed, a practice environmentalists say destroys fragile ecosystems such as coral reefs which are home to a wide variety of species and essential breeding grounds.

It is used mainly by French and Spanish boats off the Scottish and Irish coasts in waters up to 1,500 metres (5,700 feet) deep.

EU Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki had sought a ban in the Northeast Atlantic beginning in two years time but parliament's fisheries commission recommended instead it should be stopped only in areas identified by the Commission as especially vulnerable.

Green French MEP Jean-Paul Besset deplored the outcome, saying that "as other marine resources are run down, the logic of always more, further out, deeper won the day."

Environment group Greenpeace said the vote showed that parliament was "at best half-hearted" in its approach.

"It is astonishing that subsidised fishing vessels can continue to plough the seafloor with monster nets that crush everything in their path," it said in a statement.

"Without subsidies, deep-sea trawling would be unprofitable," it said, noting that while relatively "few fishermen in France, Spain and Portugal specialise in deep-sea fishing with trawls ... their impact is disproportionately large."

The Blue Fish Europe industry group for its part welcomed the vote, saying it would help protect fishermen's jobs as well as the environment.

European lawmakers Tuesday approved a controversial fisheries accord with Morocco, allowing EU boats to return to the north African country's waters after being kicked out in 2011.

About 120 boats, mostly Spanish, from 11 European Union member states can now fish in Moroccan waters for the next four years.

Of a 30 million euro ($41 million) annual payment, 14 million euros will go to help develop Morocco's own fishing industry, the European Parliament said in a statement.

Ship owners will pay up to another 10 million euros to the Moroccan government to fish.

The 11 EU member states covered by the deal were listed as Spain, Portugal, Italy, France, Germany, Lithuania, Latvia, The Netherlands, Ireland, Poland and Britain.

Spain, however, has by far the greatest interest.

MEPs voted 310 in favour and 204 against the accord.

"This is an excellent deal for both sides which fulfils all the conditions requested by the European Parliament in its 2011 resolution, by ensuring both environmental sustainability and a proper return for the EU budget contribution," said Spanish MEP Carmen Fraga Estevez.

The MAP news agency cited Morocco's foreign minister welcoming the deal as opening up "large and promising" opportunities for ties with the EU and for the fishing industry.

In December 2011, the European Parliament blocked the deal, citing concerns over the terms and the legal position of Western Sahara, the former Spanish territory now controlled by Rabat.

In retaliation, Morocco banned all EU fishing boats.

Opponents said Tuesday that they believed the agreement still did not properly take into account the situation in Western Sahara.

The authorities there dispersed a protest against the accord at the weekend, according to witnesses and a Moroccan non-governmental organisation.

Morocco annexed Western Sahara after Spain withdrew in 1976 and Polisario fighters took up arms for an independent state.

A Polisario Front statement on Tuesday denounced the fisheries accord, warning that it could "destabilise an already explosive situation in the region."

The United Nations brokered a ceasefire in 1991 but a promised self-determination referendum for Western Sahara has never been held.


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