Fishing fleets could net millions in extra income thanks to a revival in stocks of key species, the European Commission (EC) said today.
Twenty fish stocks in European Union (EU) waters are now considered to be within sustainable fishing limits, compared with only five in 2009, fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki said.
The figures are rare good news after years in which fishermen have faced massive catch reductions in the name of conservation and on the promise of plenty tomorrow.
The EC has blamed successive years of enforced cuts on fleets routinely breaching catch quotas and delaying stock recovery.
Today, however, ahead of EU fisheries reform talks next week, Mrs Damanaki declared: "We are now seeing some improvements towards ending overfishing, but we need to go the extra mile and adopt Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) reform if we want to guarantee these improvements in the long term."
A commission "consultation document" looking at fishing opportunities for next year says efforts to halt overfishing are starting to work, thanks to reduced annual catch quotas in recent years.
The effectiveness of quota cuts allowed increases in the total allowable catch (TAC) for some stocks this year, says the report - with an estimated extra income for the fishing industry of 135 million euro (£109 million).
An EC statement said: "The figures show that following scientific advice when setting TACs helps fish stocks rebuild.
"As a result, fishermen are rewarded with higher catches and higher income, and the environmental impact of fishing is less."
It said the revival of stocks and the resulting income boost reinforced the need to reform the CFP to build on the benefits - because sticking to annual TAC limits alone would not be enough.
"Long-term management, a fully science-based approach and eliminating catastrophic practices such as discarding (dumping non-quota stocks caught in nets accidentally) are needed, as spelled out in the Commission proposals on CFP reform," the document added.
The EC says the scientific advice on which annual catch cuts are based is improving, with more and more stocks being assessed more accurately on the basis of the science.
The upbeat note came as lobby groups mounted a campaign against what they see as compromise proposals on EU fishing policy.
Birdlife Europe, Greenpeace, OCEAN2012, Oceana, Seas At Risk and WWF issued a joint statement warning that a proposed deal would not stop the depletion of fish stocks for another decade.
They said fisheries ministers were preparing to settle for a "lowest common denominator" deal "without any ambition to achieve sustainable fisheries or save fishing jobs".
The statement said: "Horse-trading to accommodate all member states has resulted in a significant weakening of the commission's reform proposal compared with July 2011.
"The required recovery of fish stocks by 2015 has been further delayed and the goal posts shifted.
"Ministers are only willing to commit to reduce fishing pressure progressively which would allow overfishing to continue for the next decade."
The groups claim only a quarter of fish stocks in EU waters are at sustainable levels.
"A 31 per cent decrease in fishing jobs since 2002 shows the bleakness of the European fisheries crisis which can only be remedied by a root-and-branch reform," the statement added.