Fishermen welcome EU conservation talks outcome

Talks on fishing regulations continued into the early hours of Thursday

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Fishing industry representatives have welcomed the outcome of talks in Brussels on EU fish conservation measures.

The UK government said the deal was good for "the health of the seas", while EU Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki was "broadly satisfied".

The fishing industry had faced the threat of further automatic cuts as part of the EU's Cod Plan.

It argued the cuts were unnecessary because of a doubling of cod stocks.

The agreement, reached after three days of talks, allows for catch levels to increase for some white fish stocks off the west of Scotland, the English Channel and Irish Sea.

The scale of cuts proposed by the European Commission for other stocks has been reduced.

Plans to reduce further the number of fishing days at sea were resisted by EU ministers.

The issue of cod catch levels next year remained unresolved ahead of talks with Norway in January.

As a result, the plan for a 20% reduction in cod quotas for 2013 is still on the table.

Richard Benyon, the UK fisheries minister, said: "This has been my third year attending these frustrating negotiations and I am delighted that we were able to secure the best possible deal for the UK fishing industry.

"The current Cod Recovery Plan has failed to deliver. It was one of my priorities to ensure that days at sea for fishermen would remain the same next year and that is exactly what has been achieved."

The Scottish government said the agreement was better than the industry might have expected.

Fishing deal details

  • Days at sea to remain at 2012 levels
  • Increase in catch quotas for West of Scotland prawns (18%), Irish Sea prawns (6%), Channel plaice (26%) Channel sole (6%), Celtic Sea
  • The size of the cut in Celtic Sea haddock quotas reduced from 55% to 15%
  • West of Scotland megrim quotas reduced by 7% rather than 40%

Scottish Environment Secretary Richard Lochhead said: "For once our fishermen can go into 2013, into the new year, and not face these automatic cuts which are just part of the plan - not necessarily right for the fishing stocks or right for the fishing industry in Scottish circumstances.

"So that's why I think they're just breathing a huge sigh of relief because these talks have actually paid off for once."

The fishing industry has given a largely positive reaction to the deal.

Scottish Fishermen's Federation chief executive Bertie Armstrong said: "We were facing the very real danger of the decision-making being caught in legal red tape that would have caused immense economic hardship and done nothing to aid fish stock conservation and sustainable harvesting.

"Fishing effort in Scotland has been slashed by almost 70% over the last 10 years and we were quite simply at a stage where the fleet could not sustain any more cuts.

"These were hard fought negotiations but on balance the package of measures agreed brings a degree of stability for the Scottish fleet in 2013."

'Eye on the ball'

Scottish Liberal Democrat fisheries spokesperson Tavish Scott said: "The benefits of the UK and Scottish governments working hard together for local fishermen are clear.

"Brussels had dangerous proposals that would have clobbered our boats. Most of these appear to have been dropped which is important and right.

"But the EU Norway negotiations in January still include a 20% cut in cod quota which would increase discards, not cut them. Ministers therefore need to keep their eye on the ball in these on-going negotiations."

Alison Johnstone, rural affairs spokesperson for the Scottish Greens, said: "There is a perception that our fishing fleet has been pared to the bone but years of overfishing with ever larger boats have left fewer fish and driven small boats out of business.

"Quotas were cut and our cod stocks are slowly recovering but the science tells us that reducing catches now is an investment for the future of fishing in Scotland."

Scottish Conservative fisheries spokesman Jamie McGrigor said: "We have avoided the potential disaster of yet further cuts in days at sea, and the proposed 20% cod quota cut under the Cod Recovery Plan.

"These proposals took no account of the most recent science which show cod stocks are recovering and would have risked the viability of many Scottish boats.

"Fishermen can be more optimistic now about the outcome of the EU-Norway talks."

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