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Last Updated: Wednesday, 19 December 2007, 16:39 GMT
Q&A: The 2008 EU fishing quotas
Fish in nets off Scottish coast
The fishing talks lasted for more than 20 hours
The wrangling over the 2008 European Union fishing quotas lasted through the night and resulted in a deal that was met with caution by delegates.

In the end, fishermen were left with an 18% cut to the number of days they are allowed to fish off the west coast of Scotland, a 10% cut to fishing days in the North Sea, and an 11% rise in the amount of North Sea cod they can catch.

Why are there fishing restrictions in the first place?

In order to sustain fish stocks in the heavily-trawled waters of the EU's member states, the amount each country is allowed to catch has had to be rationed.

Catch limits apply to about 150 species of fish in EU waters, but cod is one of the most over-fished and has been the focus of the negotiations.

Other stocks which are threatened include common sole in the western part of the English Channel, and sand eels in the North Sea.

How bad is it?

This is the hotly debated issue. According to some scientific assessments, there should be no fishing at all for a year in certain areas to allow stocks to return to a sustainable level.

But a lower threshold has been chosen in order to ease the pain on fishing fleets, the commission say this is still sustainable in the long-run.

Many environmentalists disagree, the say that at current rates there will be no fish left to catch.

There is, however, a broad consensus that fish stocks are on the decline.

Why are there both quotas, and limits to the number of fishing days for vessels?

The two restrictions work in tandem to preserve stocks.

In the process of catching their quota for a certain species, fishermen also pull in other fish. These are thrown, dead, back into the sea.

If their days at sea were not limited, they could continually go out, catch only a small amount of their target fish without meeting their quota, but throw back multiple hauls of other species.

How are the restrictions determined?

The amount that can be sustainably fished is determined by a scientific assessment of fish stocks carried out by the Copenhagen-based International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (Ices). Ices represents all EU member countries with fisheries interests.

Each stock in each area of the sea is designated a "total allowable catch", of which each member state is apportioned a share.

It is then up to the member states to allocate their share to their own fishing industry as they see fit.

In the UK, the number of days at sea a vessel is allowed depends on its size, and the type of equipment it uses - the more effective it is at catching fish, the fewer days it will be allowed to be out fishing.

The worst-hit areas are the fisheries off the west coast of Scotland and in the Irish Sea - where stocks of cod are more scarce than those in the North Sea.

As a result, there are tighter restrictions for vessels in those areas.

How is the amount each country catches policed?

While it is up to each member state to police its own share of the "total allowable catch", the European Commission can step in if it sees a country over-reaching its share.

How "green" is this agreement?

The new deal backs "conservation credits" that would allow fishermen to claim back some fishing days if they adopt a range of conservation measures.

One suggested scheme is to encourage vessels to use nets with mesh sizes that selectively catch certain sizes and species of fish and allow others to escape.

The ministers also backed the idea of "real-time closures" of parts of the sea that have been over-fished.

This would mean temporarily closing areas where fishermen have reported large numbers of under-size fish.

Those crews that take part in the conservation schemes would be given back some of the 10% reduction in the days they are allowed out at sea.

If cod is so scarce, why is there no shortage of it in the shops?

Some 90% of the fish consumed in the UK comes from outside the EU, from Iceland, Greenland and the Faroe Islands.

The fish stocks in these fisheries are healthier.

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19 Dec 07 |  Politics
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17 Dec 07 |  North East/N Isles
Fish quotas talks a 'mixed bag'
26 Nov 07 |  North East/N Isles
Minister criticised on cod quotas
20 Nov 07 |  Science/Nature
Cod stocks pilot scheme extended
08 Nov 07 |  North East/N Isles


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