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CANADA WARNS IT MAY CUT SPANISH NETS IN DISPUTE OVER GRAND BANKS FISHING

Canadian patrol vessels might cut the nets from Spanish trawlers now fishing in the disputed zone off the Grand Banks near Newfoundland, Fisheries Minister Brian Tobin has warned again.

"It is with a deep sense of regret that we consider again the possibility of having to take any direct measures," Tobin told reporters Saturday.

Two Canadian patrol boats equipped with warp cutters -- used to cut cables that connect fishing nets to the trawlers -- headed out Saturday from St. John's, Newfoundland, to the Grand Banks of the North Atlantic just outside Canada's 200-mile limit, where Spanish vessels have resumed fishing.

Talks in Vancouver, British Columbia, ended Saturday after failing to settle the bitter dispute over fishing the depleted stocks of Greenland halibut, also known as turbot.

Friday, speaking to reporters outside the federal House of Commons, Tobin had said: "If we can get binding and enforceable measures that the European Union or Spain will enforce, that's all we've been looking for," Tobin said.

"If we can't get those measures, then we've got to examine all other options, including warp cutters," he said. "It's as simple as that."

Warp cutters are used to sever heavy steel cables used by fishing trawlers to drag their giant nets in the ocean. Other countries have used warp cutters in past fishing disputes.

"Every pound of fish that is caught is another nail in the coffin of the turbot," Tobin said. "We cannot talk while the last fish is being caught, and I haven't changed my mind about that one bit."

He said Canada has talked about conservation for 10 to 20 years, producing millions of words on paper while 50,000 jobs and 350,000 metric tons of fish have disappeared.

He called for a binding, transparent and enforceable mechanism that ensures Canadian concerns of conservation and enforcement.

"It's clear that we don't trust each other," Tobin said. "The good faith that has been promised in the past is not enough. Now we need binding, enforceable rules . . . and in the absence of binding, enforceable rules, Canada needs to consider other, more direct options."

Tobin rejected calls from Canada's Reform Party to board and inspect the vessels now fishing on the Grand Banks.

"I have no intention of asking Canadian fisheries officers while we are in the middle of a dispute . . . to go aboard a Spanish vessel on the high seas . . . unarmed and ask if they can do an inspection of the vessel."

Tobin doubted that any Canadian inspection team would be received properly by a fishing vessel so shortly after the armed encounter, boarding and seizure of the Spanish trawler Estai.

"The (Spanish) trawlers today, in my judgment, are fishing in a manner totally inconsistent with any care or concern with the cause of conservation," Tobin said. "Not only are they doing it today, they did it yesterday."

The EU wants a larger share of the turbot quota than it was allocated at a Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization meeting in February.

On March 9, Canadian vessels seized the Estai, one of more than a dozen Spanish fishing vessels accused of violating Canadian law and exceeding the quota for turbot.

The boat was released last week after posting a bond equivalent to $340,000 and returned Thursday to a hero's welcome in the Spanish port of Vigo.

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