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Canada Reels In a Deal With EU Over Fish Take

AFTER five weeks of net cutting and shots across ships' bows, the fishing flap between Canada and the European Union is over.

Canada and Spain narrowly avoided an all-out fish war when the 15-nation EU agreed Saturday to specific quotas for and close monitoring of all vessels fishing in international waters near Newfoundland.

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EU ministers formally approved the deal in a meeting in Brussels yesterday morning, having nudged a reluctant Spain to agree to the compromise pact. But that didn't prevent Canadian Fisheries Minister Brian Tobin from already crowing about the deal Saturday night.

''We will now have a new mandatory enforcement regime, which will apply to 100 percent of Canadian and EU fishing in areas regulated by [the North Atlantic Fisheries Organization] outside of 200 miles,'' Mr. Tobin said in Ottawa, speaking of the area outside Canada's 200-mile territorial waters. He declared it a victory for conservation of the world's fish stocks.

Environmentalists say the deal is significant because it sets a precedent for other coastal states to enforce NAFO quotas in international waters, quotas that have often been flouted.

''It's definitely a step forward,'' says Steve Shallhorn, a Greenpeace spokesman in Toronto. ''It doesn't have everything we want. But it's certainly better than we would have predicted a month ago.''

Measures agreed to by Canada and the EU include:

*Increased inspections of fishing vessels in NAFO-regulated zones.

*Posted observers on ships fishing in several sensitive zones outside Canada's waters.

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*Rigorous third-party inspections for ships with serious violations.

*Nets with 4.7-inch mesh may be phased out by NAFO.

*A Canadian law to be repealed, which allowed it to seize Spanish and Portuguese vessels fishing in international waters.

Canada's spat with the EU has been mostly a fight with Spain over allegations that its large freezer-trawler fleet was vacuuming the waters off Newfoundland -- just outside Canada's waters -- of a declining species called turbot.

In early March, Canada warned Spain to stop scooping up turbot. When it did not, Canadian officers on March 9 stopped the Spanish ship Estai, arrested its crew, and temporarily impounded the ship. Canada says the Estai was using nets with illegal small mesh to catch immature fish, restricted species, and far more fish than its quota allows. On March 26, Canada cut the nets of another Spanish ship.

Spain and EU representatives decried Canada for ''piracy'' but lost the public-relations battle to the deft Tobin, a former television broadcaster. Britain sided with Canada against its EU partner Spain, nullifying any threat of EU sanctions.

BY this weekend Spain had two warships watching 14 or so fishing vessels, all continuously shadowed by Canadian ships. After negotiations bogged down, a frustrated Tobin reportedly sent ships Saturday to begin cutting nets again, wringing a last-minute deal from Spain.

The biggest battle was over who would get how much of the turbot. Originally about 60 percent of the 27,000-ton NAFO turbot quota was allocated to Canada, with 12 percent going to the EU. Unhappy with its share, the EU was ignoring its quota, Canadian officials say. The EU was already well over its share when the Estai was seized, they contended.

Under pressure from Tobin and other EU nations, Spain has accepted a quota of 10,000 metric tons of turbot -- 7,000 tons more than it had but less than it hoped for. The 5,000 tons Spain has already caught will not be marked against its quota this year. Canada will receive 10,000 tons as well, although that is about 6,000 tons less than its original quota.

But some say the deal may have come too late for most fish species. Canadian scientists say they can't locate any spawning-age turbot.

''I just worry that [Tobin] may have won the day, but that it is too little too late,'' says Tom Best, president of the Association of Newfoundland and Labrador Fisheries Cooperatives. ''The turbot is the last commercial ground fish species left. We'll just have to wait and see how effective the enforcement really is.''

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