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Wildlife groups slam ‘appalling’ EU in row over UK trying to protect puffins

Wildlife campaigner groups have blasted the EU after Brussels told the UK to rip up its own laws protecting British wildlife.

The post-Brexit row between the EU and the UK erupted after the UK recently banned sand eel fishing in the North Sea. The UK said the ban would protect Britain’s puffins, which rely on the sand eel for their diet. The endangered puffin is one of Britain’s most iconic seabirds.

However, the EU has urged the UK to reverse its decision, claiming it breaches the country’s post-Brexit deal. Brussels claims the ban unfairly punishes European fishermen. Fishing boats from Denmark catch around 250,000 tonnes of sand eels in UK waters every year, which amounts to several billion individual fish. Sand eels are targeted for their oil and use in feed for livestock and farmed salmon

The furious response saw Brussels trigger the dispute mechanism of the Brexit deal for the first time. The two sides must now find a compromise by Thursday or the EU could retaliate and impose tariffs against the UK.

Wildlife campaign groups have sided with the Brexiteers in the standoff in a unique alliance as they called out Brussels for its “disgusting” and “appalling attack on Britain’s marine wildlife”. They also urged the British government to “stand firm” against EU pressure.

Thirty-eight conservation groups across Europe support the UK ban, including the RSPB, ClientEarth, Oceana UK, Birdlife International, and the Marine Conservation Society.

Joan Edwards, director of policy and public affairs, at The Wildlife Trusts told “The dispute by the European Commission amounts to an appalling attack on our marine wildlife.

“UK coasts host globally important breeding colonies of seabirds, giving us an international responsibility to protect these species. Sandeels are the backbone of marine ecosystems, essential to the health of seabirds such as puffins and kittiwakes, as well as an important food for commercial fish, whales and porpoise.

“At a time when nature is in crisis, the UK’s decision to protect sand eels from industrial fishing is a vital measure, providing a lifeline to a whole host of marine wildlife.”

Kirsten Carter, head of marine policy at the RSPB, echoed this, pointing out that the latest census “shows a decline of 62 percent across seabird species within the UK”. She said that wildlife campaigners are “absolutely disgusted to see the EU challenging this sand eel closure”.

She told the “The closure of sand eel fisheries is the single greatest measure that can build resilience and it has thrown these seabirds a much-needed lifeline.

“Along with 38 UK and EU conservation groups we’re calling on the UK government to stand firm, and for the EU to reconsider its challenge and recognise the importance of protecting and restoring sand eel stocks to help turn around the fortunes of these globally important seabird populations.”

Meanwhile, politicians insist that Brexit means that Britain should have the right to choose which wildlife it protects in its own waters. David Davis, a former UK Brexit minister, told the BBC: “UK government policy is in both the national and the global interest and Brexit gives us the right to make these decisions by itself.”

A spokesman for the European fishing industry insisted that the sand eel fishery is already well managed, with quotas in place and a system of closed areas to protect fish when they breed.

Espen Sverdrup-Jensen, president of the EU Association of Fish Producers, said that Danish fishermen have fished sand eel “sustainabilty for decades”.

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