Tensions between Canada and the 15-nation European Union over North Atlantic fishing rights eased somewhat Wednesday when Canadian authorities released the Spanish vessel seized in international waters last week and Spain stopped fishing in the disputed area.
Canadian Fisheries and Oceans Minister Brian Tobin said owners of the fishing boat Estai had posted a $355,000 bond, and the trawler and her crew were free to leave St. John's, Newfoundland, where the ship was escorted by the Canadian Coast Guard after its seizure. Tobin also said other Spanish fishing boats had retreated from the contested zone just outside Canada's 200-mile limit.
"We have the appropriate conditions now in place to allow a dialogue," he said.
Foreign Affairs Minister Andre Ouellet said Canadian representatives in Brussels were ready to negotiate disputed quotas for turbot fishing in the North Atlantic with the European Union.
Canada's claimed right to enforce fish-conservation standards in international waters off the Grand Banks of Newfoundland has seriously disrupted its normally placid relationship with the EU. Spain hinted at a break in diplomatic relations after Canadian ships seized the Estai with a burst of machine-gun fire across the bow last Thursday.
Despite Wednesday's eased tensions, Tobin again accused the Estai of predatory and illegal fishing tactics. He told Parliament that the ship's net, which the crew dropped into the sea while being chased by Canadian ships, had been recovered and fails to meet international conservation standards.
The holes in the net were too small to let immature fish escape, which would threaten the species' ability to reproduce enough to sustain itself, he said.
Tobin also said a secret hold discovered on the Estai hid 25 tons of American plaice, or flounder, a species he said is in danger of disappearing from the North Atlantic and thus declared off-limits by the North Atlantic Fisheries Organization, which sets quotas for the region.