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US warns EU tuna fishing could hit trade relations

2nd May 2003

Planet Ark

WASHINGTON - The European Union's continued "overfishing" of Atlantic tuna stocks could lead to new trade frictions with the United States, U.S. Commerce Secretary Don Evans said in a letter obtained.
On an issue of concern to both conservationists and sports fishermen, Evans warned EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy of the potential for U.S. sanctions if the European Union does not reduces it harvest of Atlantic bluefin tuna and white marlin.

The letter, dated April 25, represents a victory for the Recreational Fishing Alliance in its bid to persuade the Bush administration to crank up the pressure on the European Union.

The fishing group has long accused the European Union of routinely ignoring catch limits and quotas set by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna.

Evans echoed that view, saying: "I am concerned that overfishing by EU members states is reducing stocks of ICCAT species below sustainable levels."

Evans said he was also disappointed ICCAT members agreed to an EU proposal that set the annual catch limit on Eastern Atlantic bluefin at 32,000 metric tons, or 6,000 tons more than recommended by the group's scientific advisers.

Herb Moore, a spokesman for the fishing group, said he was told by the Commerce Department that Commerce Undersecretary Grant Aldonas personally delivered the letter to EU officials in Brussels this week.

EU member states dominate ICCAT and long have been able to set annual catch limits that ignore the views expressed by the United States, Moore said.

In addition, EU members Spain and Portugal routinely exceed their annual allocation by 10,000 to 20,000 metric tons, many of which are juvenile fish that have not yet reproduced, the fishing group said.

Last fall, the Recreational Fishing Alliance - with support from the State of Maryland, boat manufacturers and the World Wildlife Fund - asked the U.S. Trade Representative's Office to investigate the possibility of retaliating against the European Union for overfishing.

However, the organization representing more than 75,000 saltwater anglers, fishing clubs and marine manufacturers dropped the request after the trade representative questioned the idea of using U.S. trade laws to press the European Union on the matter, Moore said.

In his letter, Evans appeared more open to the idea of the Bush administration accepting the fishing group's petition.

He warned the issue had the "potential to lead to serious friction in U.S.-EU trade relations" and urged the EU to comply with existing ICCAT obligations and reconsider recent catch levels set by the international group.