BRUSSELS European lawmakers on Tuesday backed reforms meant to end decades of overfishing, but critics said unscrupulous fishermen would be able to carry on throwing away perfectly good fish because of a glaring loophole.
The European Union in 2013 agreed to reform the bloc's common fisheries policy in an attempt to rebuild fish stocks.
Included in the reforms was a massive reduction in the practice known as discarding, which has seen European fishermen throw almost 2 million tonnes of unwanted fish back into the sea each year -- often dead or dying -- as they seek to fill EU quotas with the most valuable species.
Tuesday's vote in the European Parliament in Strasbourg concerned rules on discarding.
Although passed, Green politicians opposed them.
They said that a concession that fishermen could continue to dump fish damaged by predators was a major loophole because it would be up to fishermen to decide whether fish were damaged.
Swedish member of the Green party Linnea Engstrom said the new rules "totally undercut the ban on discards and essentially give fishermen carte blanche to continue with the wasteful practice".
"Our common concern is to preserve fisheries resources while maintaining a viable economy. The agreement we have found helps mitigate some of the negative effects of the new rules for fishermen," said French politician Alain Cadec, from the main center-right European People's Party grouping.France and Spain, which have among the largest fishing fleets in the EU, have been at the forefront of nations arguing for more flexibility for fishermen.
Debate will continue between representatives of the European Commission, the Parliament and member states on a new management plan for the Baltic region as another plank of the fisheries reform.
Environmental politicians and campaigners welcomed a preliminary vote, which also took place on Tuesday, on the management plan, the first of a series of regional programs to allow fish to reach maturity to ensure stocks are replenished.
Environmental campaign group the Pew Charitable Trusts urged negotiators from parliament to hold firm against less robust outline plans put forward by member states.
Representing the European fishing industry, Managing Director of Europeche Kathryn Stack said Tuesday's ban on discarding would "mitigate some of the negative effects of the new regulation".
On the Baltic plan, she said it was important to ensure targets were "workable, realistic and do not disrupt the viability of the sector".
(Editing by Louise Heavens)