EU raises cod-catch quota, but stocks are fragile, say environment groups

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Fishing fleets will be allowed to catch more threatened species such as cod in 2008, despite the recommendations of scientists and environmentalists.

Under a deal by EU fisheries ministers the quota for North Sea cod is increased by 11 per cent, a rise welcomed by the fishing industry after years of reductions. Cuts in other sea sectors for cod were less than those asked for by scientists.

Greenpeace's EU spokeswoman, Saskia Richartz, said: "Today's decision continues a three-decade trend of ministerial incompetence." The WWF environmental group expert, Carol Phua, said it was wrong to let policy depend too much on fishermen's voluntary action, which is part of the agreement. "As the scheme is voluntary, it will prove to be effective only if enough boats follow the plan."

But ministers said the stocks would be sufficiently protected because fishermen will be forced to reduce the days they can spend at sea, and measures will be taken to reduce bycatches of unwanted fish and discards of unsellable fish.

Jonathan Shaw, the UK Fisheries minister, said the agreement "acknowledges efforts by our fishermen to find new ways to safeguard stocks and to prevent large amounts of the fish they catch having to be thrown back dead into the sea". Portugal, which chaired the meeting, said young cod were plentiful after the 2005 spawning season.

The WWF environmental group warned that overall stocks were still fragile. The environmentalists had demanded cuts of up to 50 per cent where the EU executive had proposed cuts of 25 per cent. The ministers, wary of a backlash from the industry, limited the cuts to 18 per cent.