EU reaches agreement on 2009 fish quotas
AFP - Saturday, December 20
BRUSSELS (AFP) - - EU fisheries ministers reached agreement Friday on 2009 fish quotas, with a big increase in permitted catches of cod in the North Sea but cuts elsewhere.
They also agreed to tackle the problem of fish that are thrown back and left to die because they are too small, the wrong species or because fishermen do not have a quota to bring them back to market.
Environmental groups have long attacked the so-called practice of discarding, which they say can make up half the fish caught on average and which they consider to be a huge waste.
"We have managed to strike a balance," said French Agriculture Minister Michel Barnier after chairing the meeting in Brussels, where a unanimous compromise agreement was reached in a second day of negotiations.
"We found the always very difficult balance, in a good atmosphere, between responsibly and sustainably managing fragile resources and fishermen's interests," he added.
Under the agreement, North Sea cod quotas will be raised by 30 percent from 2008 levels, the first big increase in a long time.
While quotas will be lifted, fishermen will have to use nets and gear that allow more targeted catches so that they can avoid wasteful discarding.
Non-governmental organisations argue the quotas set each year by ministers are deceptive because they only reflect the fish brought to shore and not those thrown away beforehand.
"We are witnessing a scandalous wasting of millions of tonnes of fish each year in the North Sea. That must end," said WWF Germany campaigner Karoline Schacht.
She said in the case of cod that "for each fish caught another is thrown away."
In other Atlantic fishing zones, cod quotas will be cut on average by the 25 percent recommended by the European Commission with the exception of the Celtic Sea south of Ireland.
Cod is a species that usually does not stray far from one area, which means that stocks can vary widely from one fishing zone to another.
"We have managed to achieve significant steps forward in the management of our fisheries in community waters," EU Fisheries Commissioner Joe Borg told journalists.
Among other decisions, a four-year-old ban on anchovy fishing in the Bay of Biscay will remain in place.
Herring quotas for the zone west of Scotland were cut by 20 percent from 2008 levels compared with a 52 percent originally proposed by the European Commission.
The ministers also ignored the commission's recommendation for a ban on fishing of spurdog and porbeagle deep-water sharks. Instead they agreed on a 50 percent cut in spurdog catches and a 25 percent reduction in porbeagle quotas.
The negotiations were generally more relaxed than in past years with ministers forgoing the all-night marathon negotiations which had become an annual Brussels tradition.
The talks went more smoothly in part because they were spread over more time and because Baltic and deep-sea quotas were dealt with in October.
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A French fisherman distributes cod, April 2008, in the northwestern port of Boulogne-sur-Mer, where 600 kilos (1,100 pounds) of the fish were given away to protest against EU fishng quotas on the species and prove its abundance. EU fisheries ministers reached agreement Friday on 2009 fish quotas, with a big increase in allowed catches of cod in the North Sea but cuts elsewhere, officials said.
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