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Last Updated: Wednesday, 22 December, 2004, 05:40 GMT
EU agrees fishing quotas for 2005
Coat landed on a boat

EU fisheries ministers have reached agreement with the European Commission on national fishing quotas for 2005.

Under the compromise deal, the Commission agreed to allow more fish to be caught by fishing fleets next year than it had originally envisaged.

The EC had already dropped proposals to close depleted cod grounds in parts of the North Sea, Irish Sea, the west of Scotland, the Baltic and the Channel.

The UK and other EU members with a North Sea coast had opposed the plan.

The ministers agreed to gentler quota cuts provided the reductions continue for several years, Reuters reported.

The compromise deal, reached after talks that stretched through the night, was adopted almost unanimously.

Only Lithuania voted against, while Britain and France voiced reservations. Greece abstained after the 20-hour negotiations.

EU fisheries commissioner Joe Borg said the new package would "rebuild depleted stocks without economically crippling the fleets concerned".

At stake is the future not only of the dwindling stocks of cod and other species but also the livelihoods of traditional fishing communities across Europe.

'Poor reflection'

Environmentalists say the agreed measures, such as reducing the numbers of days fishing boats can spend at sea every month, do not go far enough to prevent irreversible destruction of cod in Europe.

Charlotte Mogensen, EU fisheries policy officer for WWF, said the deal "reflects poorly on the member states and their unwillingness to adopt such key measures in the name of fish stock recovery".

Trawler at sea   PA
The fishing industry doubts the scientists' advice
Greenpeace spokesman Thilo Maack said the decisions would "contribute nothing" next year toward the "urgent" protection of cod, plaice and sole.

The creation of no-fishing zones to let threatened cod stocks recover had been a key part of the European Commission's proposals, and Dr Borg said he was disappointed the EU members did not follow his lead.

"The Commission would have liked to go further on a number of points, but I believe that the agreement that we have reached is a step in the right direction," he said.

Dr Borg stressed that EU members would impose tougher monitoring restrictions to make sure fishermen do not exceed quotas.

Tough restrictions

The restrictions include a four-and-a-half-month summer ban on cod fishing in the Baltic Sea, while boats catching more than one tonne of cod in the North Sea must have their hauls inspected.

Spanish and Portuguese boats will be limited to 22 days of fishing for squid and octopus per month and 20 days per month for sole fishing in the Atlantic.

The EC's original proposals had already declined to take on recommendations made by independent experts.

In its report released in October, the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (Ices) advised a complete halt to cod fishing in the North Sea, the Irish Sea and west of Scotland.

Scientists said North Sea stocks had shrunk to about one tenth of 1970 levels, and warned of depletion on the scale of eastern Canadian waters where cod disappeared in the 1990s and stocks have yet to recover.

Fishermen complain that drastic cuts in allowable catches, by up to 80% in Britain, have not yet had enough time to show their positive impact before stricter quotas are imposed.

Fishermen closed off two French ports on Monday to protest at the plans.

Watch secret night footage of fishing boats

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