|Irish and Scottish boats may face more days in port unless they embrace conservation plans.
At the annual fish quota negotiations in Brussels, agreements were reached to partially offset more cutbacks by involving trawler men themselves to manage the long-term revival of dwindling cod stocks.
The deal delivers the first significant rewards to fishing fleets in years. An 11 per cent increase in North Sea cod catches will be permitted in 2008 which reflects a scientifically-acknowledged upturn in species numbers.
However, as prices continue to soar EU ministers faced tough debates over cod quotas.
Portugal, current holder of the EU presidency, proposed to cut cod catches by 10 to 20 per cent, depending on which zone in the North Atlantic. But this met stiff resistance from other states - chiefly France, Britain, Ireland, Belgium and Denmark.
"Since we have a big share of the European quota, the main point for us is cod, which is recovering according to some scientists," said French Agriculture Minister Michel Barnier.
Some ministers want to leave quotas unchanged next year amid tentative signs that delicate cod stocks are now beginning to recover. It's a move supported by environmentalists and many EU leaders.
Fisheries Commissioner Joe Borg has said that most scientists still remain pessimistic about the cod recovery. And, in addition to cutting cod quotas by a quarter, he has recommended reducing the number of days fishermen can spend at sea casting their nets.
Conservationists say that fisheries should be closed entirely. World Wildlife Fund fisheries expert Carol Phua has warned that Europe cannot afford to repeat past mistakes by fishing cod at the first signs of recovery. And this was echoed by Greenpeace protestors who sealed off the entrances to the EU negotiations earlier in the week
DisgruntledHowever, Scottish and Irish fishermen are a little disgruntled. Some could be hard pressed to make a living from the Irish Sea as the fleet must now absorb yet more cod fishing reductions of up to 25 per cent. They face even fewer days at sea as part of the deal.
UK fisheries minister Jonathan Shaw was optimistic about the UK plan to boost fishing fortunes he took to Brussels. It would allow vessels taking part in the new monitoring scheme to "earn" more time out of port.
He said 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 and backed the idea of establishing "real-time closures" of depleted fishing grounds. This involved the temporary shutting-down of waters where fishermen report a preponderance of young cod fish and need to be preserved as part of long-term recovery plans.
Crews taking part in this scheme will be spared some of the extra 10 per cent reduction in fishing effort called for by the European Commission. A joint UK-Ireland initiative in the Irish Sea aimed at improving understanding of the state of stocks and avoiding the dumping of unwanted fish will also allow scheme operators to earn extra days at sea.
The Scottish Fishermen's Federation has welcomed the adoption of new and innovative fisheries effort management regime.
It says that the final quota agreement reached in Brussels means Scotland being able to push ahead with a flexible effort management regime to ensure the number of days that boats can put to sea will stay the same next year.
The agreement does see a reductions in days at sea for the West coast - between a 10 and 18 per cent drop depending on mesh size and 10 per cent for the North Sea. However, the decision to back a ground breaking Scottish administered conservation scheme will allow many boats to gain back these lost days in exchange for realistic cod avoidance measures.
“Our new approach this year has been to seek more intelligent ways of meeting cod avoidance. We welcome that a Scottish administered scheme has been agreed. It will provide flexibility to effort management and provide incentives for Scottish skippers to adopt targeted and effective fisheries conservation measures," said Bertie Armstrong Scottish Fishermen's Federation chief executive.
For the West coast, the quota for Rockall haddock was increased substantially by 50 per cent. For pelagic fish (mackerel and herring), the quota has been reduced by 20 per cent for West of Scotland herring, which is better than expected says SFF.
“One of our key aims was for Scotland to gain influence over the administration of a separate effort management scheme that will provide flexibility. This has been achieved and will hopefully pave the way for more effective fisheries management in the future,” added Mr Armstrong.