Canada takes aim at Europeans in fishing feud

The Associated Press

TORONTO It's all very un-Canadian, this fish war with Europe. Seizing ships. Cutting nets. Hurling sharp words at allies.

But the fate of an ugly flatfish called the turbot has pushed mild-mannered Canadians to uncharacteristic aggressiveness.

Canada claims it wants to save the last viable fish stocks on the Grand Banks, off Newfoundland. The Europeans counter that Ottawa is less interested in international conservation than in pursuing its own economic interests.

Somewhere in the middle is something called international law.

Canadians have yet to take to the streets to defend the turbot, but that hasn't prevented the press from raising the rhetorical temperature.

''Next time, let's really teach them a lesson,'' huffed the Toronto Sun after a Spanish ship was seized earlier this month. ''If they keep messing around, seize their ships and sell them. If that fails, warn those blowhards off their ships and then blow them up.''

The Ottawa Citizen was calmer, but equally firm.

''Admittedly, Canada's policy is an ugly one unilateral, unfriendly and of questionable legality,'' the paper said. ''But the fishery needs a policeman, and until the international community is willing to take the job, (Fisheries Minister Brian) Tobin is the best we've got.''

Tobin on Tuesday used the sunny New York skyline as a backdrop to launch Canada's latest salvo in the trans-Atlantic fight over turbot fishing.

Using an East River barge as stage, Canada displayed a net and frozen fish samples it says are proof that Spain is wiping out fish stocks off Newfoundland.

Tobin said the net was from the Spanish vessel Estai and its mesh was finer than international rules allow. As a result, the net would trap young fish before they can spawn and regenerate stocks.

Canada temporarily seized the Estai and arrested its crew earlier this month, touching off the fight with Spain and the European Union.

''We're convinced that if we don't stop this (fishing) activity, not only will turbot be destroyed but the other stocks will not be able to rebuild,'' Tobin told reporters on the barge.

Canada staged its show-and-tell across the river from the United Nations, where governments this week began a new round of talks on rules for high-seas fishing.

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