European Commission drops automatic fish quota

The European Commission has dropped proposals which would have seen an automatic cut in fish quotas where there is not enough information about stock levels.

The UK had opposed the plans for a 25% reduction in quotas for stocks which were lacking in data, as part of efforts to make the EU's fisheries more sustainable, because officials said they were not based on science.



The proposals could have hit important UK fisheries including Rockall cod, Irish Sea herring, haddock and plaice, and West of Scotland whiting and pollock.



The Commission also said quotas would not automatically revert to the same level as the previous year for stocks without sufficient data, but each would be assessed on a case-by-case basis.



UK Fisheries Minister Richard Benyon said he was glad to see some "realism" in the decisions being made at today's EU Agriculture and Fisheries Council in Luxembourg.



The UK also won backing from Ireland today in its call for Iceland and the Faroe Islands to reduce the quotas they unilaterally awarded themselves for mackerel in the North Sea, or face sanctions, to ensure the stocks are fished fairly.



Speaking on the ditching of proposals for an automatic cut to stocks without sufficient data, Mr Benyon said: "Just because the data on a stock doesn't give the full picture, that doesn't mean slashing the amount which you're allowed to catch by a quarter is the right response.



"The UK fully supports the Commission's ambitions to ensure that fish stocks are sustainable in the long term.



"But we can't support proposals which have no basis in science and could risk increasing discards from otherwise healthy stocks."



Cuts to quotas could mean fishermen may be forced to throw overboard fish they caught from stocks which may well be healthy - because they did not have the quota to cover the catch.



Mr Benyon also said he wanted to reach agreement with Iceland and the Faroese on managing mackerel stocks, but warned that if they continued to fish at the same level they were doing this year, the fishery could be in danger by 2014.



"Mackerel is vitally important to the Scottish fleet in particular, and it's not right that they should lose out when they have played by the rules.



"We had a very constructive meeting with the Irish delegation this morning, who feel the same as we do that if Iceland and the Faroe Islands don't stop taking more than their fair share then the sanctions proposed by the Commission must be considered as soon as possible."

PA

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