Fishermen angered by new EU quotas deal

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Fishing industry leaders have hit out at a deal agreed in Brussels today that will cut the number of days they are allowed at sea.

European fisheries minister had thrashed out an agreement on next year's EU quotas after twelve hours of talks.

UK fisheries minister Ben Bradshaw then emerged to hail an accord he said was good for conservation but even better for the pockets of the UK fleet - for the third year running.

But the deal has been criticised by Scottish fishermen, who are angry that they will lose between one and two days fishing every month as a result.

Bertie Armstrong, chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen's Federation, said they would not be allowed out for long enough to catch their quotas.

He told the Scottish Press Association from Brussels: "There is huge disappointment within the industry, and there will be some anger in elements of the fishing fleet that are affected by the decision to reduce days at sea.

"Undeniably, the opportunity to catch fish with regard to quotas was broadly satisfactory.

"However, for the white fish and prawn section, the crucial element is days at sea.

"There is no point in having quotas if we are physically incapacitated in the days we can catch it."

Mr Armstrong said that today's decision meant that over the last five years, the number of days at sea for fishermen has halved.

Mr Bradshaw said it would have been "irresponsible" not to have any cut in days at all, given the continued poor state of the cod stocks.

He said that smaller quotas for over-fished cod have been balanced by bigger catches for many other more plentiful species.

And he insisted record prices for fish on the quayside means incomes should increase.

Before the talks began, EU fisheries ministers had ruled out scientific and environmental demands to shut down cod fishing grounds altogether because of the dire state of dwindling stocks.

Instead, the European Commission recommended a 25% cut in the permitted maximum cod catch in 2007, coupled with a 20% cut in the number of days fishermen go to sea.

Early today, that was whittled down to a 14% cod catch cut, and a reduction of between 7%-10% in permitted days at sea - currently a maximum of about 15 a month depending on the type of fishing gear and the exact fishing ground.

Mr Bradshaw said that the UK had been ready to endure a tougher cod reduction in the name of conservation - not least because the state of many other stocks allows real increases in catch allowances next year.

Mr Bradshaw admitted that there was still no significant recovery in sight for North Sea cod, although the birth rate of baby cod last year was the highest recorded for a decade.

But with cod now only the fifth most important catch for the UK fleet, there was more focus on prawns, mackerel, haddock and monkfish, all of which get increased quotas in 2007.

For the UK fleet the most significant results from the talks are:

* A 20% increase for South West England hake catches;

* A 17% increase for Irish Sea prawns;

* A 13% increase for mackerel;

* A 10% rise in North Sea and West of Scotland monkfish catches;

* A six per cent increase for South West England monkfish.

Mr Bradshaw argued today that the UK white fish fleet had already achieved its target for reducing cod fishing effort - decommissioning boats, reducing days at sea and natural wastage - by 65%.

Other national fleets have not reached that figure, and should bear the brunt of any further cuts next year, he said.

The fisheries minister said afterwards: "The UK was prepared to go further to protect cod, and nobody is more committed to helping its recovery than we are, but in the face of opposition from other countries we accepted a more modest reduction.

"The agreement builds on the considerable cuts in cod catches already made in recent years. The impact on our fishing fleet will be more than compensated for by big increases in catches allowed for prawns, haddock, mackerel and monkfish - each of which is already more valuable than cod to our fishermen."

Scotland's fisheries minister Ross Finnie said the best possible deal had been secured for the country's fishing industry.

He said that despite the cuts in the cod quota, fishermen will benefit from increases in a number of key stocks, such as Rockall haddock, monkfish and west coast prawns.

Mr Finnie said: "As always, the settlement needs to be read as a whole, and I am satisfied that in these difficult negotiating circumstances we have secured the best possible deal for Scottish fisheries."

Ted Brocklebank, Scottish Conservative fisheries spokesman, said the settlement was "dreadful".

Referring to the cut in the number of whitefish fleet days allowed at sea, he said: "How can they have enough days to catch the quota they have left?"

Mr Brocklebank said that increasing other quotas for fish such as west coast prawns could be ineffective as fishermen struggled to catch existing allowances.