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No plans to punish fishermen who defy EU cod ban: Poland

(WARSAW) - Polish authorities said Wednesday they had no immediate plans to punish fishermen who are catching cod in the Baltic Sea and defying a European Union freeze imposed to preserve the species.

"On the one hand, we don't support the fishermen who are breaking the law. But on the other hand, given the situation they're in, we don't currently plan to resort to the punitive measures that they fear, such as fines or withdrawing their licences," fisheries ministry spokesman Krzysztof Gogol told AFP.

Gogol said Polish inspectors have so far identified six trawlers which have been catching cod in the Baltic despite a ruling by the EU's executive European Commission that Poland has used up its quotas for catching the threatened fish.

Poland's fisheries minister Marek Grobarczyk was Wednesday due to present Joe Borg, the Commission member responsible for the fishing industry, with an "alternative programme" for protecting Baltic cod without an outright ban, Gogol said.

Some 430 Polish trawlers fish for cod in the Baltic, employing a total of 5,000 people on board and in the onshore processing industry.

The Commission has repeatedly told Warsaw that Poland's trawlers have exhausted their quota, warning that continued fishing would add more pressure to a fish stock already facing collapse.

Brussels has threatened to deduct any overcatch from next year's quota -- compounding the anger of Polish fisherman, who were already protesting against a decision by the Commission to slash their 2008 allowance by almost a quarter.


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