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Last Updated: Thursday, 16 December, 2004, 16:21 GMT
UK rejects North Sea fishing plan
By Alex Kirby
BBC News website environment correspondent

Fish catch, BBC
The UK sees some signs of hope for the industry
The UK government has rejected plans by the European Commission to close some fishing grounds to protect cod stocks.

The Fisheries Minister, Ben Bradshaw, said he would oppose the plans at the meeting of EU fisheries ministers in Brussels due to start on 21 December.

The EC proposed closing parts of the North and Irish Seas and off western Scotland where 40% of EU cod are taken.

All EU states with North Sea coasts are said to back the UK, meaning any vote on the plan would probably be lost.

'More time needed'

Mr Bradshaw said: "We're not opposed to closed areas in principle, and I think you'll increasingly see them being used in the future.

There are glimmers of a cod recovery, and increases in prawns and monkfish
Ben Bradshaw, UK Fisheries Minister
"However, we don't think the timescale on which the commission seems to be expecting member states to agree these proposals is something we can accept.

"The cod recovery plan we introduced has been in place for just two years: it's entailed considerable pain.

"There are now signs of recovery, and so I think this is not the year for introducing closed areas. As they're currently proposed, we can't support them."

He told the BBC: "I think it's too soon to say whether the worst is over for the fishing industry.

"The next few years will show whether the measures we've already taken on cod will be enough, and our fisheries are on a sustainable basis. More tough measures may be necessary.

Making progress

"But given that we're only two years into the recovery plan it doesn't make much sense to lurch away from that, especially when there are glimmers of a cod recovery, and increases in prawns and monkfish."

The director of fisheries at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is Rodney Anderson.

Over the next five or 10 years, it'll be a difficult situation, but recoverable
Rodney Anderson, Defra
He told journalists: "There's no quick fix to the problem of how to manage fish stocks in a sustainable way.

"The UK's decommissioning of boats and the restrictions on the days they can spend at sea have helped the cod to recover.

"We've proposed to the commission measures to reinforce the enforcement of fishing regulations, and sanctions on those who break them.

"We think they'll help to bridge the gap between us and the commission - it wants a 65% reduction in cod mortality, and what we're doing already is delivering about 56%.

Losers and winners

"We'll go on making our case for bigger catches of monkfish west of Scotland and prawns in the Irish Sea.

"But we think the commission's proposal for closed areas is not underpinned by sound science, and would be disproportionate.

"There's a common perception that the fishing industry is on its knees, with no fish left in the sea.

"But it's a mixed picture - haddock and herring are in a very healthy state, and while cod are poor there are signs of a gradual recovery."

Mr Anderson told the BBC: "Some of the industry is doing extremely well. Over the next five or 10 years, it'll be a difficult situation, but recoverable."

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