Spanish and Portuguese trawlers retreated Friday from fishing grounds in international waters where Canada had seized a Spanish ship, but the European Union wasn't backing down from threats to retaliate.
Spain sent a naval vessel to the area off Newfoundland where Canadian authorities had chased, boarded and seized the trawler Estai on Thursday after firing warning shots across its bow. The captain and crew were taken into custody.
Canadian Fisheries Minister Brian Tobin said Canada will not release the vessel, though the crew will be allowed to return home, and he promised more arrests if European boats continue what Canada calls ruinous overfishing of turbot in the area off Newfoundland.
"The EU also wants us to allow them to fish until (the turbot) are all gone. I won't do that either," a defiant Tobin said Friday.
At issue is how to divide a yearly catch of 27,000 tons of turbot, a limit imposed to protect dwindling stocks. The EU rejected its share of a 1995 quota fixed by the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization and instead set itself a much higher limit.
Protesting the Estai's seizure, the EU postponed plans to sign a scientific cooperation pact with Ottawa.
And the EU's executive committee said it was considering other trade and political sanctions.
Spanish official Carlos Bastarreche said retaliatory action could include a boycott of the Group of Seven summit of industrialized powers in Halifax in June.