Falling cod stocks have prompted fears
Fishermen in Northern Ireland will be able to catch more fish next year as a result of an EU deal on quotas, a minister has said.
Northern Ireland's Fisheries Minister Ian Pearson was speaking after EU fishing ministers reached agreement on further drastic cuts to avoid the collapse of cod stocks.
The deal on fishing quotas came after all-night talks in Brussels aimed at saving threatened species.
The compromise plan was hailed by Mr Pearson, who attended the negotiations, as a good deal better than many people had expected going into the talks.
"Our fishermen will be able to catch more fish next year," he said.
"Key stock quotas have gone up, which is good news.
"But there will be limitations on the number of days they can go to sea."
The 15 EU nations reached a unanimous decision on the long-term recovery plan, but 2004 catch quotas were agreed despite some opposition.
The ministers had been struggling to find agreement on the long-term plan to stave off disaster for dwindling stocks of several fish species, especially cod.
Spain, Denmark, France and Britain wanted to protect their fishing communities from new restrictions, while Germany and Sweden wanted strict adherence to scientific advice calling for a ban on cod in key fishing grounds and big cuts in other catches.
The new quotas include a near doubling of the amount of haddock that fishermen are allowed to catch, while cod and hake catches are frozen at last year's level.
On Friday, Mr Pearson added: "I remain as convinced as ever that the Northern Ireland fishing industry is robust and resilient.
"I am confident they will fare will under the new regime, and will continue landing the quality fish for which they are renowned."
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.
EU Fisheries Commissioner Franz Fischler told the BBC: "We are confident that this system will work and we are on the right track."
The deal falls short of the total fishing ban recommended for affected areas by scientists, but environmental groups hope they could be a first step in reversing decades of overfishing in European waters.
Scientists say cod stocks in the North Sea have fallen to one-tenth of their 1970 levels.
As a warning of what could happen to European fish stocks, they point to the waters off eastern Canada, where cod disappeared entirely in the 1990s after years of overfishing.
The scientists say that industry simply cannot carry on fishing in the North and Irish Seas at current levels.
But Barry Deas, chief executive of the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations (NFFO), said the research did not take into account more recent measures which have helped to maintain fish stocks.
He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "These negotiations are about extending the European Commission's control over fisheries, moving towards more of a command and control system more reminiscent of the 1950s."
The commission says the measures are aimed at increasing quantities of adult cod by 30% in targeted zones.