The reductions - of up to 40 per cent of the catch in some cases - have left British fishermen "extremely alarmed, angry and despairing", according to their leader Barrie Deas. "They may well drive people out of business," he said.
But international fisheries scientists contend the cuts are necessary to protect stocks of white fish such as cod, hake and haddock, some of which, they say, are now below safe biological limits and may collapse.
Mr Deas and the Scottish fishermen's leader, Hamish Morrison, will tomorrow see the Fisheries minister, Elliot Morley, to press him to fight for greater UK catch allowances at Thursday's meeting of EU Fisheries ministers in Brussels.
They are unlikely to come away satisfied. Mr Morley, one of the most conservation-minded ministers in the Government, agrees that some fish stocks are now below safe limits. "I believe there may be a little room for manoeuvre in relation to some of the catches, but I accept the argument that stocks are under severe pressure," he said.
The new reductions, for total allowable catches in the sea areas around Britain which are then divided into national quotas, are some of the sharpest proposed. The total catch of cod in the Channel area, for example, is to be slashed from 20,000 tonnes to 15,600 tonnes, while the catch of hake in the Western Approaches is to be cut from 33,000 to 28,000 tonnes.
These cuts are being brought in now because European countries have decided to apply the "precautionary principle" - acting before it is strictly necessary - to managing fish stocks.
The proposed levels are based on advice from the Danish-based International Council for the Exploitation of the Sea, which regulates the world's fish stocks.
Mr Morley said he accepted a programme based on the precautionary principle. "But it is also my job to get the best deal I can for British fishermen," he said. "Those objectives are not necessarily contradictory."
Fishermen's leaders say the cuts should be phased in "It is an awful lot to swallow at one go," Mr Morrison said.
David Evans, who runs two beam trawlers out of the Cornish port of Padstow, is gloomy about the proposed cuts.
"We just can't afford it. We haven't got enough to catch now and we're all struggling as it is," said Mr Evans, 43, who has been fishing for more than 25 years.
"I think the cuts will squeeze us out of business. In five to ten years we won't have a fishing fleet."Reuse content