Published: Thursday 31 July 1997

Another row on fishing has broken out in the European Commission (EC), with Spain accusing the EC of conspiring with the UK on the issue of 'quota-hopping'. The practice is common among Spanish fisherfolk, who purchase British licences and boats to fish under Britain's quota. The EC had recently written to British Prime Minister Tony Blair, suggesting measures to solve the problem.

British agriculture minister Jack Cunningham recently said that the UK will soon introduce new restrictions on licences for all foreign-owned boats fishing under the British quota, including an estimated 160 boats with Spanish and Dutch owners. It may now be necessary for owners of foreign boats to land a specified portion of their catch in Britain, to employ a majority of their crew from the UK, and conform to other such conditions. Cunningham also said that the EC has agreed to monitor fishing laws more effectively.

Meanwhile, the Spanish foreign minister, Abel Matutes, has sent an angry missive to the EC president Jaques Santer, saying that any new restrictions on licencing will be challenged in the European Court. He said that earlier, Spain had been assured by the EC that any move to restrict the operations of Spanish-owned boats would contravene the European Union fishing treaty. He has accused Santer of failing in his basic duty of transparency in dealing with member countries by not consulting Spain on the issue. Spain has won four European Court rulings to buy access to UK quotas. "If the UK takes new measures, we will have a fifth (ruling in our favour)," warned a Spanish diplomat. But Cunningham is not perturbed. "Because we have agreed on a way forward with the Commission, we are in a much better position to avoid legal challenge to the measures we adopt," he said.

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