EU ministers agree end to fish discards

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EU fisheries ministers have agreed to end the practice of fish discards, a major element of reform of the EU's Common Fisheries Policy.

Speaking at the end of all-night talks, the president-in-office of the Fisheries Council, Ireland's Agriculture and Marine Minister Simon Coveney admitted talks had been "a little tense".

Under the deal, discards - which sees edible but unwanted dead fish thrown back in the sea - will be phased out between 2014 and 2017.

A ban on discarding pelagic fish - such as mackerel and herring - will start from 2015, with other fish including cod banned from 2016, apart from those in the Mediterranean, where a ban will come into force in January 2017.

This is a less tough line than had been voted on by the European Parliament earlier this month, when MEPs voted for a full discard ban on all stocks by 2015.

However, this had been opposed by countries such as France, Spain and Portugal who felt their fishing fleets could be financially damaged by being forced to land all catches.

The European Commission estimates that 80% of Mediterranean stocks and 47% of Atlantic stocks are overfished.

Discards are often carried out by fleets for economic reasons, such as to comply with quota restrictions.

Mr Coveney insisted the Council was "serious about bringing about a fundamental change in the way in which our fish stocks are managed".

However he remarked that the compromise was needed as different countries had "different levels of preparedness" for a discard ban.

The deal was supported by 26 EU governments, with only Sweden voting against.

With the position of the Council and Parliament now confirmed, negotiations between the two institutions with the European Commission will now begin, with the view to reaching a joint position by the end of the Irish presidency in June.

The public deliberations of EU fisheries ministers can be viewed here.

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