Page last updated at 14:59 GMT, Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Fishing reduction 'serious blow'

A 25% reduction in fishing has been agreed in Europe to protect cod stocks

Martin Cassidy
by BBC NI News consumer affairs correspondent

County Down fishermen have said they are horrified at further reductions in the number of days they are allowed to fish.

The European Fisheries Council has agreed a 25% reduction in fishing effort to protect cod stocks.

Dick James of the Northern Ireland Fish Producers Organisation said the reduction in days at sea is a serious blow to local fishing communities.

For prawn boats operating out of Kilkeel, Ardglass and Portavogie the 25% reduction will mean the fleet being confined to port for an additional 40 days next year.

Cutting quotas has been the traditional way the commission has used to try to conserve stocks, but, frustrated by quota swaps between some member states, it has increasingly turned to keeping boats tied up in port.

Irish sea prawn boats were allocated 180 days at sea this year but the Fish Producers Organisation says that will now fall to 135 days in 2009.

The whitefish fleet, which now amounts to fewer than ten boats, is currently permitted to fish 148 days and that will now be reduced to just over 100 fishing days in 2009.

Fishermen are now waiting to hear how the pot of days allocated to the United Kingdom will be allocated to individual boats.

Conor Murphy, who represented the fisheries minister Michelle Gildernew in Europe, said it was an extremely difficult negotiation given the European Commission's determination to conserve cod stocks and reduce cod mortality including discards.

"The commission did show some flexibility on the baseline to be used to measure fishing effort and on the ability to grant extra effort to vessels which follow cod avoidance plans. However on the issue of reducing fishing effort by 25% it showed no flexibility," said Mr Murphy.

European fisheries ministers will meet again in December to discuss quotas for different species and the level of catches for next year.

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