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As large and vast as the world's oceans are, they quickly are falling victim to the greed of fishing fleets. Unless nations can formulate a treaty with strict quotas soon, a global fish famine may be unavoidable.

Consider the following:- Nine of the world's 17 major fishing grounds have been devastated by over-fishing. Four more are seriously threatened.

- The number of fish caught worldwide rose steadily from 1950 to 1989, but now has leveled off.

- Some Spanish fleets have been accused of using large, illegal nets that can sweep ocean floors, gathering even the tiniest creatures.

- Off the coast of Newfoundland, the number of cod has dropped by 80 percent over the past year.

Population has nothing to do with this phenomenon. The oceans contain more than enough food for everyone. The problem is greed.

Huge super-trawlers can carry several hundred tons of fish and keep them fresh through high-seas voyages. One such Canadian trawler reportedly gathered its yearly quota of roe herring - 770 tons - in just eight minutes. Such hauls can be worth several million dollars.

Third World countries lease their fertile coastal waters to other nations, collecting billions of dollars in return. The governments of many developed nations add to the problem by subsidizing fishing fleets.

Some nations have accused others of pirating fish. Canada went so far as to seize at gunpoint a Spanish fishing vessel operating in international waters near Canadian shores. The result has been a confrontation pitting Canada against Spain and the entire European Union. Spain rejected the latest compromise proposal this week, one that would have cut its annual catch limit by 80 percent.

Considering how many people and economies rely on ocean fish for survival, the world can't afford to wait much longer for a treaty setting strict limits. Supposedly, delegates to the United Nations already are working on such a document.

If they don't hurry, the world may have no choice but to avoid sea food diets while anxiously waiting to see if the oceans restock themselves.