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. EU to raise ceilings on fishing fuel aid, but no move on tuna ban

The European Commission has said that high prices for both fuel and food are here to stay for some time and should only be countered in the medium- to long-term with structured policies, rather than knee-jerk reactions.
by Staff Writers
Brussels (AFP) June 17, 2008
The European Commission cleared the way for emergency aid for fishermen hit by soaring fuel prices on Tuesday, but refused to reverse a ban on tuna fishing that has angered the Mediterranean fleets.

Faced with growing pressure from increasingly militant fishermen -- and increasingly concerned governments -- European Fisheries Commissioner Joe Borg proposed to lift ceilings on public aid for the sector.

He suggested raising the limit from 30,000 euros (46,500 dollars) over three years per firm currently to 100,000 euros, which both France and Italy had requested.

He said he was also prepared to allow member states to provide emergency aid to fishermen who did not go to sea for periods of up to three months, so long as it was part of a plan for the restructuring of the industry.

The proposed package will be considered by EU fisheries ministers when they meet in Luxembourg on June 23 and 24.

But Commissioner Borg rejected calls from several Mediterranean nations to drop a planned ban on industrial bluefin tuna fishing, defending its decision to close the fishing season early.

Dismissing accusations that its decision was based on faulty figures, the commission said unnamed EU member nations were failing to keep track of catches, running the risk of overfishing.

"The commission therefore cannot seriously be expected to consider their very poorly based request to suspend its well-founded decision," said Borg in a statement.

The commission sparked a wave of protest on Friday from France, Italy and Spain when it announced it was closing the season early for big industrial operations in the Mediterrean and eastern Atlantic.

The three countries decried the commission's decision as unjustified and disproportionate, raising doubts about the figures Brussels used.

The commission's move targeted fishing by purse seiners, boats that place nets around whole schools of fish before drawing them in. They account for 70 percent of all bluefin tuna hauls.

Under the commission's decision, boats from Greece, France, Italy, Cyprus and Malta were banned from fishing bluefin tuna from June 16. For the Spanish the ban will apply from June 23.

The season would usually have run to the end of June, when the fleet normally hauls in 90 percent of its catches, taking in as much as 550 tonnes of tuna per day.

France has already said it would raise the matter again at the next fisheries ministers' meeting.

Although France did not raise this possibility, the Commission's decision to close the tuna season early for industrial fishing boats could be challenged by EU member states if they could summon a qualified majority.

The Union of Mediterranean Fishermen has already called for its members to defy the ban and resume fishing from midnight.

The European Commission has said that high prices for both fuel and food are here to stay for some time and should only be countered in the medium- to long-term with structured policies, rather than knee-jerk reactions.

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