BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Europe’s conservation-minded fishing chief won a partial victory on Wednesday, convincing fishing nations to forego some short-term profits in 2011 to help rehabilitate over-exploited species such as cod.
But Britain appeared to have succeeded in diluting plans to halve the catch of cod in Scottish waters, possibly weakening efforts to protect the main species used in the traditional fish and chips meal.
The yearly negotiations were the biggest test yet of the resolve of European Union fisheries commissioner Maria Damanaki, who started her political career as a leader in a 1973 student uprising against the Greek dictatorship.
She has pledged to put the recovery of fish stocks by 2015 ahead of short-term profits.
Damanaki proposed last month that cod catches should be halved in zones to the west of Scotland, in the Irish Sea and in the straits between Sweden and Denmark after evidence showed populations were not recovering from decades of exploitation.
Scotland, where annual fishing revenues are around 445 million pounds ($706 million), looked likely to be hit hardest.
But fisheries ministers meeting in Brussels agreed in the early hours of Wednesday that a 25 percent reduction in quotas was more appropriate than 50 percent, according to a provisional report from the meeting.
“I have been fighting hard to protect the livelihoods of our fishermen,” said UK fisheries minister Richard Benyon.
The International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES), the main scientific authority on northeast Atlantic fish, says cod stocks in the region are in such a perilous state around Scotland that the catch should be cut to zero.
Ministers also threw out Damanaki’s proposal for a 15 percent cut to cod quotas in the Bay of Biscay and off the Portuguese coast, opting for business as usual with a catch of 4,023 tons.
Fishing nations argue that cutting cod quotas will not always protect the species, as they will be swept up anyway by boats trawling for Nephrops prawns and then thrown back dead into the sea to obey the limits, an unpopular practice known as ‘discarding’.
“After two days of intense negotiations, with no clear winners, I am more convinced than ever that the (EU‘s) Common Fisheries Policy is broken and needs radical reform,” said Benyon.
Conservation groups, such as Pew Group, Greenpeace and WWF, also called for a total overhaul of the EU’s dysfunctional fishing policy. “Bargaining with our oceans and the livelihoods of fisheries dependent coastal communities has to stop,” said Uta Bellion of Pew.
Damanki’s team say 72 percent of European fish stocks are exploited at unsustainable levels. Around 93 percent of North Sea cod, for example, are caught before they can even breed.
Fishing fleets are so heavily subsidized that in some European countries citizens pay twice for their fish -- once in the shop, and again through their taxes to keep an unprofitable fishing fleet afloat and powered by subsidized fuel, the Commission says.
“The economic crisis that has struck Europe, along with the rest of the world, continues to take its toll on businesses in all sectors,” Damanaki said in a statement after the meeting. “Many of our fisheries are especially vulnerable, because they are at best only marginally viable to begin with.”
“I am very pleased to say we have a result which moves us closer to our goal of sustainable fishing by 2015,” she added.
Reporting by Pete Harrison