Fishing fleets will boost their livelihoods by monitoring conservation and avoiding the dumping of dead fish over the side under a deal hammered out in Brussels today.
The annual negotiation on next year’s catch quotas ended at dawn with agreement which partially offsets further cutbacks in fishing effort by drawing the trawlermen themselves into the long-term revival of dwindling stocks of cod.
The deal also delivers the first significant rewards after years of belt-tightening – an 11% increase in permitted North Sea cod catches in 2008 to reflect a scientifically-acknowledged upturn in cod numbers.
But elsewhere – off the West of Scotland and in the Irish Sea – fishermen must absorb yet more cod fishing reductions of up to 25%.
And they face reduced “fishing effort” – the number of days at sea – as part of the deal.
But the UK plan to boost fishing fortunes, discussed with the industry first and put on the table by UK fisheries minister Jonathan Shaw overnight, allows vessels taking part in the new monitoring scheme to “earn” more time out of port.
Mr Shaw said afterwards that the final deal was a fair one for the UK and made a start at tackling the “immoral” dumping of dead fish back in the sea.
The talks approved a plan which enables fishermen to adopt “tailor-made measures” which work best for them.
The talks backed the idea establishing “real-time closures” of depleted fishing grounds – the temporary shutting-down of waters where fishermen report a preponderance of young cod fish which need to be preserved as part of long-term recovery plans.
Relying on immediate evidence from the fleets as they work means boats can be directed towards more lucrative waters and moves to protect juvenile fish triggered swiftly.
Crews taking part will be spared some of the extra 10% reduction in fishing effort called for by the European Commission as part of next year’s catch allowance terms.
A joint Ireland-UK initiative in the Irish Sea aimed at improving understanding of the state of stocks and avoiding “discards” – dumping of unwanted fish - will also allow participating boats to earn extra days at sea.
Mr Shaw emerged from the all-night talks satisfied with the result: “The UK has shown that its fishermen are committed to finding new ways of protecting vulnerable stocks. We wanted to avoid cuts to days at sea for our fishermen, but the overall deal that we achieved offsets some of those agreed.”
He went on: “Today’s agreement acknowledges efforts by our fishermen to find new ways to safeguard stocks and to prevent large amounts of the fish they catch having to be thrown back dead into the sea.
“Everyone worked together for a fair deal that has benefits for fishermen throughout the UK.”
As well as an 11% rise in the North Sea cod quota, the deal offers a 50 per cent increase in Rockall haddock catches, a 5% increase in Irish Sea haddock quota and an eight per cent increase in North Sea megrim.