‘Fair’ deal at EU fisheries summit

A “fair settlement” has been reached on 2008 EU fishing quotas at the annual talks in Brussels, UK Fisheries Minister Jonathan Shaw has said.

Cuts in fishing days of 18% and 10% were agreed for Scotland’s west coast and the North Sea respectively, with an 11% rise in the North Sea cod catch.

Crews will also be “given back” days at sea for helping conservation measures.

Representatives of the Scottish fishing industry were “cautiously optimistic” about the deal.

But Greenpeace said the EU was continuing policies that are dragging the seas “to a point of no return.”

Dwindling stocks

Scottish Fishermen’s Federation chief executive Bertie Armstrong said: “We wanted to start 2008 with the same opportunity that we had in 2007 in terms of fish to catch, and that is roughly the position we have ended up with.

“There will be some disappointment for some sectors of the industry, but on balance that’s where we are.”

It is the first time a conservation credit scheme has been approved by the commission.

Richard Lochhead, Scottish Rural Affairs and Environment Secretary, said the scheme “rewards the responsible leadership our industry has shown in implementing innovative measures to reduce discards and protect juvenile stocks.”

Scotland is also to be given more control over the allocation of days at sea.

“My aim is to have a new system up and running by the start of February and I will work closely with the industry in the month ahead,” said Mr Lochhead.

Previous cuts mean Scottish vessels currently fish for the equivalent of just two-and-a-half days a week.

The European Commission had sought a further 25% cut to fishing days off the west coast of Scotland, and a 10% reduction to fishing days in the North Sea.

Northern Ireland Fisheries Minister Michelle Gildernew also welcomed the outcome of the talks.

The number of days Northern Irish fishermen can spend on the Irish Sea have been reduced, but the proposed major quota cuts were averted.

Ms Gildernew described it as the “best possible outcome” for the local industry.

Conservation plans approved by the talks – which ended at dawn and lasted for more than 20 hours – included allowing fishermen to adopt “tailor-made measures” that would best suit them.

‘Immoral’ dumping

They also backed the idea of “real-time closures” of parts of the sea that have been over-fished.

This would mean temporarily taking out of circulation areas where fishermen report large numbers of under-size fish, that need to be preserved in order to support the long-term recovery of stocks.

Those crews that take part in the conservation schemes would be given back some of the 10% reduction in the days they are allowed out at sea.

The talks also began to take action against what Mr Shaw described as the “immoral” dumping of dead fish back in the sea.

Mr Shaw said: “Today’s agreement acknowledges efforts by our fishermen to find new ways to safeguard stocks and to prevent large amounts of the fish they catch having to be thrown back dead into the sea.

“We wanted to avoid cuts to days at sea for our fishermen, but the overall deal that we achieved offsets some of those agreed.

“Everyone worked together for a fair deal that has benefits for fishermen throughout the UK.”

The deep cuts in the number of fishing days at sea were being sought by the commission amid warnings from environmentalists about dwindling stocks.

Saskia Richartz, marine policy expert for Greenpeace, was furious with the deal.

She said it “continues a three-decade long trend of ministerial incompetence that is dragging Europe’s seas towards a point of no return.

“The fisheries ministers simply cannot be trusted and more than ever Europe’s environment ministers need to be included in future negotiations,” she added.

Tighter controls have been resisted by some countries owing to soaring fish prices.

Source: BBC News