Britain bears the brunt as Europe agrees to slash fishing quotas

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The Independent Online
BRITISH FISHERMEN will suffer the biggest quota cuts of recent years under a deal agreed yesterday, despite tough UK negotiating tactics which angered four other EU countries. The agreement, reached after 17 hours of talks, includes a cut of 60 per cent in Irish Sea cod catches and a package of reductions which fishermen claim will knock pounds 50m off the value of the pounds 660m industry.

Tony Blair sympathised with hard-hit fishing fleets but defended the move to conserve stocks. "There is a real problem, which is... that the fishing stocks have been run down so low we have to deal with this problem, but we recognise that the fall-out for fishing communities is serious."

In a difficult negotiation Britain invoked the so-called "Hague preference" over four species, a move which allows British and Irish ministers to claim a share of other countries' quotas. The mechanism, which was agreed in 1976, kicks in when the amount on offer falls below a threshold.

Arguing that they had suffered as a consequence, Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark and Belgium issued a joint statement opposing the principle of the concession.

Elliot Morley, the fisheries minister, said UK's "measured approach" had helped win Britain's fishing fleets extra fish worth pounds 30m above the cuts that were proposed: "This will help the industry cope with what has been a very difficult quota round," he added. "Some of our most important stocks are in a poor shape. We have to break the damaging cycle of falling stocks and reduced quotas. This must be done by those directly involve working together," he said.

But there was no disguising the wide scale of the cuts. Hardest hit were fishing communities around the Irish Sea, affecting Britain and Ireland, and around the Bay of Biscay, where French and Spanish fishermen operate.

The amount of cod taken in the North Sea will fall by 39 per cent, North Sea whiting catches must be reduced by nearly 23 per cent, saithe by 23 per cent and haddock by 13 per cent. Permitted cod and whiting catches off the west of Scotland will fall by about a third.

But even these reductions were lower than those initially proposed by Brussels, which wanted, for example, to end all fishing of Irish Sea cod.

"I wish I could give the industry more fish, but the fish are not there. The short-term impact will be a loss of fishing on some important stocks" said Mr Morley, who said he was pleased that an agreement had been reached.