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Fishermen Complied For 2009 Bluefin Tuna Season

European Union fishermen have largely complied with orders to stop over-trawling endangered bluefin tuna this year after cheating and quota-busting in 2008, the EU's fisheries chief said on Tuesday.

Determined that 2009 would be a "year of compliance" to make sure the EU did not exceed its overall catch quota agreed in international negotiations, the Commission ordered aircraft and patrol boats to be deployed in Mediterranean and east Atlantic waters this year to keep a strict watch for any rule-breaking.

Europe has a two-month season for the six EU states -- Cyprus, France, Greece, Italy, Malta and Spain -- that fish in Mediterranean and east Atlantic waters with purse seiners.

This year, the EU agreed to reduce fleet capacity and the length of its purse seine fishing season, which closed on June 15. France and Italy pledged to cut numbers of bluefin purse seine trawlers by more than 20 percent and nearly 30 percent.

"So far, (the fishing season) has proceeded in an orderly fashion. June 15, the first day of closure for purse seiners, was respected across the European Union," EU Fisheries Commissioner Joe Borg told a news conference.

"The fishery still faces a number of challenges, the most important of which is overcapacity. We will continue to monitor to ensure there is no overfishing," he said, speaking after a monthly meeting of EU fisheries ministers.

Some 85 percent of the fish are caught in June, and Commission experts say the EU's fishing capacity is so large and bluefin trawling activity so concentrated in one month, the EU quota can be exhausted in just two days of fishing.

Bluefin tuna are known for their huge size, power and speed, with maximum weights recorded in excess of 600 kg. "We are still checking figures, in Malta for example. But the on-board inspection data we have received so far indicate that this year's fishing season went very smoothly," one Commission official told reporters.