ZAGREB (AFP) – Croatian fishermen insisted yesterday that the country should implement a protected fishing and ecological zone in the Adriatic despite EU warnings. «The application of the protected zone as of January 1, 2008, will mean that the current discrimination and humiliation… of Croatian fishermen will stop,» Tonci Bozanic, head of an association of professional fishermen, said in a report by state-run news agency HINA. The zone covering an area of some 57,000 square kilometers was proclaimed by the Croatian Parliament in 2004. But the same year Zagreb agreed to allow exemptions for Adriatic neighbors Italy and Slovenia until a fishing accord was finalized with the European Union. Italy and Slovenia have proclaimed their own ecological zones, while Croatia was due to start implementing its own on January 1, 2008. The European Commission has urged Croatia not to activate the zone unilaterally, saying it could have a negative impact on the country’s EU adhesion talks. EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn reportedly told President Stipe Mesic earlier this month that he had «encouraged Croatia to refrain from implementing the measures.» Croatia hopes to become the 28th member of the European Union by the end of the decade. Croatian fishermen have repeatedly called for the full application of the zone to protect stock in the sea, which they say is being devastated by Italy’s larger fishing fleet. Italian fishermen «will have to honor regulations and not, as it was the case until now, devastate our protected zone without any rules and controls,» Bozanic said.