Newfoundland Premier Clyde Wells is pushing the United Nations to allow Canada to take custodial responsibility for the once-rich, now-depleted Grand Banks fishing grounds off the coast of his province.

In meetings yesterday and today at the UN in New York, Mr. Wells has been rallying support to put Canada in charge of protecting against massive overfishing of the banks, which he says risks permanent damage to or elimination of the cod and other fish stocks, particularly the northern cod.

"I am seeking approval here of nations of the world to endorse condemnation of the kind of fishing done by the European Community, Spain, and Portugal, and to approve Canada taking custodial management of the stocks," Wells said in a phone interview. "This would not be for Canada's own economic benefit, but as a trustee for the world to prevent the extinction of these fish stocks."

In the long run, he says, a change is needed in international law to allow Canada, and other countries whose continental shelf extends beyond the 200-mile territorial limit, to exercise control over such areas.

Canada has closed the offshore fishery it controls, cutting its quotas and damaging a $700 million industry. An estimated 8,000 Newfoundland fishermen are out of work. Yet scores of European fishing boats continue fishing in waters just beyond Canada's 200-mile territorial limit.

Last weekend, a convoy of seven Canadian fishing trawlers, with banners across their decks admonishing against further fishing, motored from St. Johns to the fishing grounds to show European ships still fishing their displeasure.

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