Spain threatened yesterday to block an EU proposal to slash Europe's fishing fleet if Madrid was unable to get the plan modified. The European Commission proposed drastic cuts to the EU's fishing fleet on Tuesday in an attempt to save fish species from extinction. Spain is home to almost a third of the bloc's trawlermen and fears it will have to cut its fleet more drastically than other countries. Spanish agriculture and fisheries minister Miguel Arias Canete told a news conference he would seek “more internationally balanced” agreements and would work with the fishing industry to offer alternatives to the Commission. Spain led Mediterranean countries opposing the EU bill, the self proclaimed “Friends of Fishing” group, which also comprised Portugal, France, Italy, Greece and Ireland. “I am confident that because we are in a group that has a different concept than that of the Commission there is hope that throughout this process we will be able to substantially improve the proposal and there won't be such an economic and social impact,” Canete said. “But if we cannot, we will use all the mechanisms at our disposal, whether a blocking minority or going to the courts,” he said after meeting fisheries leaders in Madrid. Spain, which disagrees with the Commission as to how endangered fishing stocks are, cannot veto the Commission plan but could seek an alliance with other Friends of Fishing countries to block the proposals. The Commission plan cuts the total time EU trawlers spend at sea by between 30 and 60 percent, depending on the fish species and region, which means a reduction of some 8'600 vessels, or 8.5 percent of the boats operating from European Union ports. The plan also would scrap 460 million euros in aid planned over the next four years to build vessels or modernise old ones, and fund schemes encouraging fishermen to retire or change jobs. A sweetener in the plan would finally give Spain and Portugal access to northern European waters. Canete did recognise that “the proposals on the table are an improvement over earlier they offer free access to European Community waters as of 2003”. Canete also said he would meet next week EU Fisheries Commissioner Franz Fischler, who unveiled the plan on Tuesday.


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