EU politicians back 6.5 billion euro fishing reform budget

Wed Apr 16, 2014 1:29pm EDT

* Aid to help fishermen facing stricter quotas

* Law to take effect from June

* Environmentalists welcome deal

By Barbara Lewis

BRUSSELS, April 16 (Reuters) - The European Parliament voted on Wednesday to hand out 6.5 billion euros ($8.9 billion) to help the fishing industry cope with radical EU reforms to cut the size of their catches.

The funding agreement for the years 2014-2020, backed by the European Parliament in Strasbourg, is the final piece of a series of fisheries reforms that EU member states have haggled over since April 2009.

The other pieces of legislation include a commitment finalised last year to end overfishing by 2020 at the latest and to rebuild depleted stocks of fish such as cod.

European Commissioner for Maritime Affairs Maria Damanaki said the package of laws demanded radical changes from the whole sector and Wednesday's agreement would help fund a sustainable seafood industry.

She said the priority was to help small-scale fishermen and finance equipment such as finer nets to help eliminate the wasteful practice of throwing unwanted fish back into the sea. No new EU money would be spent on anything that contributed to increasing fishing capacity, she said.

Environmental campaigners voiced doubts that it was possible to stop such aid being misused to sustain an overly large fishing fleet, but said whatever its faults, the package of reforms was a welcome step forward.

"The ball is now in the court of EU governments. The success of this reform hangs on their political will, and on the measures they now have to implement to help our seas recover by reducing fleets, ending overfishing and promoting low-impact fishing," Justine Maillot, Greenpeace EU policy advisor, said.

Member states are expected to endorse it over the coming weeks and it will come into force in June.

($1 = 0.7234 Euros) (Reporting by Barbara Lewis; editing by John O'Donnell and David Evans)

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