European Union fisheries ministers have hammered out a 2013 quota deal, which they said struck a compromise between protecting over-exploited stocks such as haddock and plaice and safeguarding fishermen's livelihoods.
Ministers agreed to limit the cuts to catches proposed by the European Commission in several Northeast Atlantic fisheries such as haddock, herring and plaice, but conservation groups accused them of ignoring data on fish stock sustainability.
French Fisheries Minister Frédéric Cuvillier welcomed the "balanced deal" reached on Thursday (20 December) after two days of quota haggling in Brussels.
"This agreement provides the basis for truly sustainable fishing in the European Union, backed up by indisputable scientific advice," he said in a statement.
A proposed 55% cut in haddock quotas in the Irish Sea, Channel and Bay of Biscay was cut back to 15%, while North Sea plaice catches would fall by 25% next year rather than the 35% proposed by the Commission.
EU Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki said the final deal was not as ambitious as the Commission's original proposal, but described the outcome as satisfactory.
She welcomed a huge improvement in scientific data on stock levels, which meant the EU had clear advice on catch levels for 85% of fish species in 2013, compared with just 39% for this year.
The European Parliament has repeatedly backed the idea of fixing quotas on the basis of long-term management plans for the most important stocks.
However, conservation groups accused ministers of ignoring scientific advice for about half of all fish species covered by the quotas, resulting in catch limits being set above levels that guarantee long-term viability.
"Fisheries ministers are not taking scientific advice into account in their decision-making," conservation group WWF said in a statement.
"As a result every year, just before Christmas, it's a 'fisheries frenzy' where ministers spend days arguing about how much fish can be caught."
Monica Verbeek, executive director of Seas At Risk, said of the deal on the Common Fisheries Policy: “While the amount of stocks that are harvested at sustainable levels is gradually increasing, it is disappointing that for many stocks fishing levels were determined by politics rather than science, even though scientific advice was available for more stocks than ever. This underlines the need for a strong reform of the CFP with the objective to restore stocks to healthy levels, through management by multi-annual plans and an obligation to adhere to scientific advice.”
The EU commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, Maria Damanaki, said: "The Commission proposal was more ambitious but I think the outcome is satisfactory. It is a great achievement that we have better scientific advice for fish stocks. We moved from last year's situation, where we had 61% data poor stocks, to 15 % this year. It's a great change."