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For Poles, easing US sanctions means little more than herring

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America's ''slight easing'' of sanctions against Poland may conceivably put more herring, a very popular holiday meal, on the plates of Polish families this Christ-mastime - at least, more than last year.

It also has some importance for the Polish government.

Lifting the ban on Polish fishing fleets in United States waters - as Washington is about to do - is the first step to regaincc7ping a commercial facility formerly worth some $260 million a year.

Canceling the permits cost the Poles not only contracts with US food processors that earned Poland hard currency, but also vital supplies of fish meal for animal feeding and an annual quota of 10,000 tons of fish normally earmarked for Polish tables.

But this is, so to speak, only a fish in the ocean, and a minor step toward any real normalization of intense economic relations with the West, particularly with the US. These have been in virtual abeyance since sanctions were imposed in response to martial law in December 1981.

Nor will rescheduling part of Poland's $11 billion debt to Western governments make much difference to its overall economic situation while more damaging restrictions remain in force. And, judging from the words coming out of Washington this week and how it views the current situation in Poland, these restrictions seem likely to remain for some time.

The West Europeans were prepared to renegotiate since early this year. A month ago, the 15 states making up the so-called Club of Paris agreed the time had come to set a date for starting talks with the Poles.

The argument was one already adopted by Western commercial banks when they agreed in August to reschedule interest payments due this year. Without renegotiation, they said, or by putting the Poles in default, they risked getting back none of their money at all.


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