EU keeps tough fishing curbs to save cod stocks

By Stephen Castle
Saturday 20 December 2003 01:00

British fishermen face another year of stringent curbs on cod catches because of a collapse of stocks, but will be able to fish for more haddock and prawns.

After a marathon 30-hour negotiation, EU fisheries ministers struck a compromise on a deal designed to keep fishing communities alive while staving off the threat that some species will be fished to extinction. They also agreed to a longer-term approach to the problem of preserving stocks, which have been devastated by the ruthless efficiency of modern fishing techniques.

Tough restrictions on cod fishing currently in place have been retained, and extended to the Irish Sea. Much of the British fleet will continue to be limited to a fishing period of 15 days a month; this figure will not be reduced as some had wanted.

There will be a 10 per cent reduction in sandeel quotas in the North Sea, and a 20 per cent drop for skate and ray catches.

But a revival of certain species has given fishermen some breathing space. There will be a 53 per cent increase in the amount of haddock that can be caught and a 30 per cent increase for North Sea prawns. And calls for a ban on fishing for cod and hake in the North Sea were swept aside.

The concessions are to be accompanied by new measures to increasesurveillance and enforcement of the rules. Ben Bradshaw, the Fisheries minister, said that it was a good deal, referring to it as "a realistic approach" to a long-term recovery of dwindling cod stocks.

He said: "We have successfully defended the number of days our boats are allowed to fish and we have got a long-term recovery programme for cod. We took an approach which reflects the need for conservation of all our fish stocks while protecting the economic interests of the industry."

He said he had fended off efforts to extend fishing restrictions in the western Channel, a major worry for fishermen in the South-west.

But environmental groups criticised the deal as too little too late. Charlotte Mogensen, a fisheries officer for the Worldwide Fund for Nature, said: "The ministers have displayed a complete lack of vision. Once again Europe's common long-term interest in saving fish stocks and fishing communities has been sacrificed for short-term gain. The proposed recovery plans by EU ministers will simply not lead to recovery."

Franz Fischler, the EU fisheries commissioner, said the ministers achieved a "balanced" agreement, giving fishermen already facing severe threats to their livelihoods another lifeline.

Expert scientific advice had been to shut down cod fishing completely in the North Sea, Irish Sea and off the west coast of Scotland. But even the European Commission resisted an option with such far-reaching consequences for fishing communities.

Barry Deas, the chief executive of the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations, said that the research on which the curbs were based had failed to take into account recent measures which had helped maintain fish stocks.

Mr Deas told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "These negotiations are about extending the European Commission's control over fisheries, moving towards more of a command and control system more reminiscent of the 1950s."

Meanwhile, the Irish government hailed a deal which it said sees Irish fish-catch quotas rise by an average 8 per cent next year. The changes mean nearly 90 per cent of the Irish Sea fishing fleet is not affected by any limits on the number of days a month they can fish.

Ross Finnie, the Scottish fisheries minister, said the deal was worth more than £20m to Scotland's fishing industry. He said: "We understand the challenges the white fish sector will face, but we have secured our objective of a better balance between conservation and increased fishing opportunity."

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