EU countries strike deal on 2008 fishing quotas
By Jeremy Smith
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - EU countries struck a deal for 2008 catch quotas on Wednesday, watering down the European fisheries chief's proposals for the preservation of species whose stocks are floundering at precariously low levels
After hours of haggling through the night, the bloc's 27 fisheries ministers accepted a series of concessions offered by the European Commission, the EU's executive arm.
As ever cod occupied top place on the ministerial agenda and quotas will be set 18 percent lower than 2007 in most trawling areas, apart from the North Sea where scientists had indicated a slight improvement in fish numbers.
The Commission had wanted a cut of 25 percent in most cod quotas for 2008.
The cod quota for the North Sea was raised by 11 percent, to the dismay of conservation groups that had attacked the idea of an increase while the species' recovery still seemed precarious.
The Commission has justified the rise by saying recovery is still possible if there are fewer cod fished as a by-catch with other species, less young cod scooped up but then thrown back into the sea, called discards, and fewer fishing days at sea.
"To ensure this recovery, effort needs to be cut. Ministers agreed a 10 percent cut in days at sea (for North Sea cod)," EU Fisheries Commissioner Joe Borg told a news conference at the end of some 20 hours of negotiations.
"The decisions taken tonight will ensure that commercial pressure on stocks will continue to decrease," he said.
Scientists have said for years cod was so seriously overfished in European Union waters that there was a risk of extinction due to stock collapse. In October, they called for the EU to set the 2008 catch at less than half of 2006 levels.
"We have a compromise that has been voted through unanimously. It hasn't been easy," said Portuguese Fisheries Minister Jaime Silva, who chaired the quota negotiations.
Other species saw lesser quota cuts than Borg had first proposed, such as for Norway lobster -- which looks somewhat like a large prawn or a small lobster -- in Spanish and Portuguese waters. That quota cut was changed from 15 to 5 percent, but days at sea hunting for it will fall by 10 percent.
For anchovy, also of prime interest for Spain and Portugal, no fishing will be allowed in the key Bay of Biscay waters until the end of spring 2008 when scientists will make an assessment.
North Sea plaice and sole would see quota cuts of 3 and 15 percent respectively for 2008, both accompanied by a reduction in permitted fishing days of 10 percent, said Borg.
During the year, national fleets gradually fill their catch allowances and are then ordered to stop fishing for particular species in a designated area. Many EU states exceed their allowances anyway so the Commission proposes more quota cuts.
Earlier this month, the EU's financial watchdog issued a report saying the bloc had no real idea of how many fish its national fleets catch each year and was also failing to clamp down hard on vessels that exceeded national quotas.