December 17, 2011 / 11:51 AM / in 7 years

Ministers criticised over EU fishing quota deal

* EU ministers raise haddock quotas, reject cod catch bans

* Fisheries campaigners say deal ignores scientific advice

By Charlie Dunmore

BRUSSELS, Dec 17 (Reuters) - European Union fisheries ministers have watered-down plans to ease the pressure on over-exploited fish stocks next year, drawing an angry reaction from conservationists who accused them of ignoring scientific advice.

After two days of talks which ended in the early hours of Saturday, ministers rejected proposals to ban cod catches in the Irish Sea and the straits between Sweden and Denmark, and agreed a massive increase in North Atlantic haddock catches for 2012.

“We managed to strike the right balance between the needs of the fisheries sector, and the protection of stocks and managing the limited resources in our seas,” Poland’s deputy agriculture minister, Tadeusz Nalewajk, who led the talks, told a news conference.

But conservation group Oceana said the final deal had fixed catch limits more than 20 percent above the maximum level recommended by the European Commission, which would hamper EU efforts to put an end to decades of overfishing.

“This type of short term approach will lead to the deterioration of not only fish populations, but also of the profitability of the sector and the viability of the fishing communities,” Oceana’s executive director for Europe, Xavier Pastor, said in a statement.

Britain’s fisheries minister said he had diluted EU plans to cut the number of days UK fisherman could spend at sea in 2012 to about four every two weeks, though boats still face a reduction in the time they can fish compared to this year.

“After two days of tense and frustrating negotiations I am delighted to have secured the best deal possible for the UK fishing industry and ensure the future sustainability of our fish stocks,” Richard Benyon said in a statement.

“One of my primary goals was to see off the threat of excessive reductions in days at sea which would have put key UK fisheries at risk,” said the statement.

Benyon also welcomed the decision to increase the 2012 quota for haddock in the west of Scotland by 200 percent compared with this year, rather than the 25 percent increase proposed by the Commission.

The bloc’s fisheries chief, from Greece, succeeded in pushing for a ban on all cod catches in the west of Scotland next year, but not in the Irish Sea and the straits between Sweden and Denmark, where ministers agreed to cut catches by 25 and 30 percent respectively.

“I hope that our fishermen will be happy, since there were a lot of stocks where we had increases,” Maria Damanaki told a news conference after the meeting. “This year, the message is not only cuts, but also increases in many important stocks.” (Editing by)

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