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 Saturday, 21 December, 2002, 02:25 GMT
EU ministers agree fishing reform
EU Agriculture and Fisheries Commissioner Franz Fischler (L) and Denmark's Fisheries Minister Mariann Fischer Boel
Ministers retired behind closed doors on the last day
European Union ministers have reached a deal on saving depleted fish stocks by agreeing new fishing quotas.

Graph showing stocks of cod since 1963
Cod catching cut 45% from last year
Fishermen allowed 15 days at sea, including travelling
North Sea stocks are so low, they could collapse if fishing is not suspended
The agreement - coming after marathon talks stretching over five days - envisages drastic cuts in the number of cod caught - 45% less than last year - and 15 days of fishing in a month, which includes travelling to fishing grounds.

Danish Fisheries Minister Mariann Fischer Boel said that the deal "takes into account the situation concerning threatened fish stocks, and ensures a sustainable fishery in the future".

However fishermen have reacted with anger to the decision, and say they will be driven into bankruptcy.

'Dark day'

German Fisheries Minister Renate Kuenast, who voted against the decision along with her Swedish counterpart, said that the deal was "not enough".

"It is... clear that on the basis of scientific evidence, in particular about cod stocks, this was not enough for me... After this week I have a sense of how difficult it will be to build up stocks again," she said.

The chairmen of the UK National Federation of Fishermen, Barry Dees, described it as a "dark day for the fishing industry" and the deal a "hotchpotch that satisfies nobody".

Environmentalist for the World Wildlife Fund Julie Cator also said that it falls far short of the cuts that environmentalists said were necessary to prevent the further decline of fish stocks.

New concessions

The deal came late on Friday after UK Prime Minister Tony Blair had made a telephone call to his Danish counterpart, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, in an attempt to end the deadlock.

He is said to have stressed that the issue was not just about fish stocks, but also about jobs and livelihoods.

Open in new window : An end to fishing?
How one family has seen its livelihood dry up

The agreed quotas of 45% less than last year for fishermen in north-western Europe falls far below the original 79% cut requested by the Commission, the EU's executive arm.

It also increased the amount of time North Sea fishing boats would be allowed to spend at sea from seven to 15 days.

World Wildlife Fund protest in Brussels
Environmentalists protested against overfishing
In an effort to secure the deal, the European Commission had also agreed to tone down proposals to cut subsidies available to build new fishing boats.

That has long been the main concern of countries such as Spain, France and Greece, which have been lobbying hard to use public subsidies to maintain and modernise fleets.

Under a compromise, public subsidies for boats of upto 400 tonnes will be allowed until the end of 2004, instead of January 2003, as the Commission had wanted.

But such subsidies will now be conditional on the withdrawal of old boats from service.

  The BBC's Pallab Ghosh
"The government says there will be compensation to soften the blow"
  Brendan May, Marine Stewardship Council
"It's too little, too late"

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19 Dec 02 | Europe
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