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, 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. But there was no disguising the 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 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," said Mr Morley. "The short-term impact will be a loss of fishing opportunities on some important stocks."