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Fishing nations, campaigners split on new EU quotas

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Fishing nations, campaigners split on new EU quotas

Photo © Colin Smith

(BRUSSELS) - European Union fisheries ministers Thursday struck a deal on 2013 quotas viewed as a "compromise" between efforts to protect endangered stocks while ensuring jobs for Europe's fishermen.

Winding up almost non-stop 48-hour talks that ended shortly after daybreak, the EU's weary fisheries commissioner Maria Damanki said: "We have achieved a compromise."

Damanaki, who was fighting powerful national fishing lobbies to cut quotas for 47 species in the Atlantic and North Sea where many stocks are over-exploited, added: "I would like to say I think I can be satisfied."

Damanki said she believed "a healthy level" could be reached for "almost all" stocks by 2015 now that fishing nations were taking scientific advice on board.

"We can have healthy stocks, more jobs and more income for our coastal communities. It is not a dream. It can be done," she said.

Yet Damanaki's proposals largely fell on deaf ears as the big fishing nations, Spain, France, Britain and Denmark, bargained to maintain the livelohoods of their fishing communities.

In the end, the haddock catch in the Irish Sea is to be cut 15 percent rather than the commission's proposed 55 percent, while the quota for sole in Channel waters was set at 6.0 percent rather than 14 percent.

Ministers left the talks on an upbeat note, with France's Frederic Cuvillier hailing "quotas that either rose or remained stable for the North Sea, Channel and Bay of Biscay and Irish Sea."

Spain's Miguel Arias Canete said Madrid was 'very satisfied, because the agreement met all our demands."

But environmentalists generally were not impressed, although there was some talk of slight progress.

"EU fisheries ministers have not taken the steps needed to tackle overfishing in the North Sea," said WWF's Roberto Ferrigno.

The ministers "have once again demonstrated that short-term interests of their fisheries sector prevail over the safeguarding of fish stocks on which the sector relies," he added.

Greenpeace welcomed the fact that ministers for the first time were basing decisions on scientific evidence but said "their measures remain too timid, with many quotas still set above the recommended levels."

Environmentalists have been pressing for reforms to allow stocks to recover above so-called Maximum Sustainable Yields (MSY) -- the maximum amount of fish that can be caught without compromising its ability to reproduce.

Damanaki said she was satisfied with the deal as "for the great majority of the stocks, we are going to reach Maximum Sustainable Yields in 2015."

This was made possible because of improved scientific advice, with experts now in possession of information on the state of 85 percent of fish stocks, double the figure of the previous year.

"So what we have decided today can give us a road map to reach Maximum Sustainable Yields, the healthy level, for almost all stocks by 2015," she said.

Last week, the Fisheries Committee of the European parliament approved measures to fix quotas for major stocks on the basis of long-term management rather than the overnight haggling that takes place in Brussels each year.

Main results of the Agriculture and Fisheries Council

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