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Europe firm on bluefin tuna quota cut despite row

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(BRUSSELS) - Europe fought back Wednesday with a renewed call to slash sushi-prized bluefin tuna quotas for next year despite objections from Mediterranean fishing nations.

European Union fisheries commissioner Maria Damanaki said she favoured "a substantial reduction" in the global 2011 quota while backtracking on her own suggestion the previous day to more than halve the figure -- from 13,500 to 6,000 tonnes.

"I do understand that would be very tough on our industry and that's not what I propose," she said in a statement.

In talks in Luxembourg with EU fisheries ministers, Damanaki had cited the 6,000-tonne figure as an "example" of a world quota target to be proposed by the EU at key tuna conservation talks next month.

The EU must agree a position ahead of a meeting of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) between November 17 and 27 in Paris.

Europe's Mediterranean nations have roundly rejected the proposals by the EU's executive arm to slash the quota for catching the lucrative sushi mainstay, which scientists say is an endangered species.

Environmental groups such as Greenpeace argue that reducing the worldwide quota to 6,000 tonnes would give the stock a 66 percent chance to reach a sustainable level by 2020.

France has called for the quota to remain stable at 13,500 tonnes on the grounds the species would be sustainable by 2022.

Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Malta, Portugal and Spain backed the French position, according to diplomats.

Britain was the only state to express support for Brussels' proposed quota reduction, while Germany and Sweden were less clear about their position, the diplomats said.

The fisheries minister for the London government, Richard Benyon, said that safeguarding bluefin tuna was a "top priority" and that it would work with the commission and EU partners to ensure its future sustainability.

Japan consumes three-quarters of the global bluefin catch, known there as "kuro maguro" (black tuna) and dubbed by sushi connoisseurs as the "black diamond" because of its scarcity.


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