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Last Updated: Friday, 19 December, 2003, 19:27 GMT
Fish quotas aim to halt decline
Cod in ice
Falling cod stocks have prompted fears
A deal on fishing quotas designed to reverse the decline of several species has been agreed by the European Union.

It contains strict measures aimed at reversing the fall in cod numbers and cuts the amount of hake to be caught.

But the North Sea fishing fleet can now catch 30% more prawns and 53% more haddock, because of flourishing stocks.

Fishermen's leaders and environmental groups criticised the deal, which aims to strike a balance between conserving stocks and protecting the industry.

Scottish trawlers

The agreement, which freezes cod and hake catches at last year's levels, was hailed as a good deal for Britain by UK Fisheries Minister Ben Bradshaw.

He said it would help the long term recovery of cod, while Scottish fisheries Minister Ross Finnie said the deal was worth 20m a year to the country.

But Hamish Morrison of the Scottish Fishermen's Federation was less impressed by the agreement, which restricts Scottish trawlers to 15 days at sea per month.

He said: "They've given us more fish to catch - but no more time to catch them."

Industry leaders also suggested the Scottish fleet had not been properly rewarded for the massive decommissioning which had taken place over the last year.

Big cuts

The 15 EU nations reached a unanimous decision on the long-term recovery plan, but 2004 catch quotas were agreed despite some opposition.

Cod levels have dropped to one-tenth of 1970 levels - EU hopes to boost their levels by 30% with severe quota cuts
Aims to boost hake levels by 5%
Quotas for haddock and prawns increased in North Sea due to flourishing stocks
Restrictions on number of days fishermen can spend at sea to ease stocks
EU rejected call for total ban on cod fishing in North Sea, Irish Sea and off the west coast of Scotland
Spain, Denmark, France and Britain wanted to protect their fishing communities from new restrictions.

But Germany and Sweden wanted strict adherence to scientific advice calling for a ban on cod in key fishing grounds and big cuts to other catches.

The European Commission insisted that recovery of cod stocks could only be achieved by keeping boats tied up in port, as limits on catch sizes have proven difficult to enforce.

But under the new scheme, fishermen who can demonstrate that they catch little or no cod will be allowed more days at sea.

'Shock absorber'

EU Fisheries Commissioner Franz Fischler said he was confident the system would work.

He accepted the deal would put pressure on fishermen's livelihoods, but said EU funding would be made available as a "social shock absorber".

The deal falls short of the total fishing ban recommended by scientists for areas hit by falling stocks.

Bounteous Sea

Some campaigners said the deal does not offer a long-term solution to dwindling fish stocks.

"The ministers have displayed a complete lack of vision," World Wide Fund for Nature Fisheries officer Charlotte Mogensen said.

"Europe's common long-term interest in saving fish stocks and fishing communities has been sacrificed for short-term gain."

Scientists say cod stocks in the North Sea have fallen to one-tenth of their 1970 levels.

The scientists say that industry simply cannot carry on fishing in the North and Irish Seas at current levels.

The BBC's Stephen Sackur
"A deal designed to safeguard fish stocks and the fishing industry"

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