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Last Updated: Wednesday, 22 December, 2004, 10:40 GMT
Q&A: Fish quota deal
Cod, BBC
Tough measures are needed to help cod stocks recover, say scientists
Government ministers and the European Commission have agreed a deal on fish quotas for 2005.

The commission had dropped its proposals to close depleted cod grounds in the North Sea, Irish Sea and off the west of Scotland.

So what has actually been agreed at the talks in Brussels?

The EU Fisheries Council, which started in Brussels on 21 December, decided how much fish could be caught in 2005, along with any other related measures.

A compromise deal was struck for next year between fisheries ministers from the member states and the European Commission to allow more fish to be caught by fishing fleets than had originally been proposed.

However, ministers agreed to the gentler cuts provided they continued for several years.

Tougher proposals - which included the closure of dangerously depleted cod grounds in the North Sea, Irish Sea and off the west of Scotland - were dropped by the EC following opposition from member states, including the UK.

EU Fisheries Commissioner Joe Borg stressed that EU members would impose tougher monitoring restrictions to make sure fishermen did not exceed quotas.

This annual pre-Christmas round of fishing negotiations is nothing new - politicians, journalists and environmentalists are used to trying to stay awake through the night as the negotiators battle it out for the best deal for their respective countries.

How exactly does the Fisheries Council decide on its quotas?

The International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (Ices) compiles a report that assesses the state of the main commercial fish stocks.

After consultation, the EC analyses the various options and sets out proposals for the following year's total allowable catches (Tacs) and the conditions under which they should be caught.

These proposals are sent to the Fisheries Council and after much bartering, a final decision is taken regarding Tacs and any related measures.

What is at stake for fish stocks?

Global demand for fish has doubled in under 30 years, because of population growth and a matching increase in demand for fish.

Commercially fished populations are down by between 15 and 20% throughout the world, experts say.

Trawler, PA
Fishing communities have already suffered "considerable pain"
Many fish stocks are now so heavily exploited that their futures are in doubt. In addition, catches of wild fish have levelled off since the mid-1980s.

North Sea cod are known to be on the verge of collapse despite attempts at reducing fishing quotas and a decommissioning programme for fishing boats.

However, fishermen, particularly those in the UK, say whole communities could be destroyed by any further attempts to decommission fleets. Campaigners warn that fishermen will resort to increasingly militant action if further cuts are made.

What exactly has caused the fishing crisis?

The decline of fishing stocks is a result of the human exploitation of marine bounty from prehistoric times to the present day. But modern fishing practices are ruinous, say conservationists.

A recent report by the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution (RCEP) released this month singles out the use of nets with a mouth the size of 50 football pitches, for example, and bottom-trawlers which plough furrows up to 6m wide and 0.15m deep for many km across the seabed.

However, the report also says climate change is a contributing factor.

The way we fish also has serious knock-on effects. For example, the European Union fishing policy has been blamed for fuelling Africa's bushmeat trade, which is forcing several rare land species towards extinction.

Foreign fleets have been accused of emptying the seas off West Africa. The result is that hungry populations have been turning from the sea to the forests to find their protein.

Could the evidence be wrong about the crisis in the seas?

Fishermen do not agree with many of the conclusions of scientists, arguing that they do not work closely enough with trawlermen and that many populations are more robust than thought.

The industry believes the scientists paint an overly pessimistic picture of the state of the marine environment; it gives too little emphasis to the excellent status of some species, such as haddock, prawns and monkfish.

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