EU foresees 'healthy' level of fishing ahead

European Union fisheries said Thursday they are moving toward more efficient and sustainable fishing that should see the stocks of threatened species recover while securing the livelihood of fishermen.

After a marathon all-night negotiating session, EU fishing nations came up with dozens of new quotas next year on fish hauls in the areas around Europe where fishermen may freely ply their trade.

"A healthy level for almost all stocks" can be achieved by 2015, with four others reaching that target only two years later, EU fisheries chief Maria Damanaki said at the end of three days of negotiations.

Fishing nations like France and Britain said they were happy their fishermen were given enough leeway for profitable fishing. Environmentalists complained several member states still sought too much short-term gain for their industry but said that after decades of slumping stocks due to overfishing there were finally signs for a turnaround in EU policy.

`'Certainly, this is a better end of the year than many that have preceded it," said Saskia Richartz, Greenpeace fisheries expert.

Earlier this week, the EU took a significant step towards protecting its threatened fish stocks when a parliamentary committee backed a series of reforms aimed at boosting fish supplies to sustainable levels. The proposals aim to toughen fleet management while easing pressure on dwindling stocks.

The surprise committee vote was welcomed as a sharp contrast to the decades of policy inaction as fish stocks plunged in the continent's waters. Statistics released this week show that EU catches have declined by almost 40 percent in 15 years.

On Thursday, Damanaki insisted progress was being made, especially since scientific knowledge of stocks greatly increased.

She said scientific advice now covers some 85 percent of stocks while it was less than 40 just a year ago. She predicted scientific advice on all stocks within five years.

`'This will be the basis for a great, great change," she said.

Even though her proposals for the 2013 quotas were not fully followed by member states, Damanaki said rampant overfishing would be a thing of the past.

`'What we decided today can give us a roadmap to ... a healthy level for almost all stocks by 2015," she said.

`'This is something we can do. We can have healthy stocks. We can have more jobs and income for our fishermen and coastal communities. It is not a dream. It can be done."

Environmentalists insisted though that big coastal nations still pushed too hard for big quotas at the expense of stocks.

Britain, for example, claimed victory for its fishermen, when it negotiated a proposed 55 percent cut of haddock in the Celtic Sea to 15 percent and from a 40 percent cut in megrim to 7 percent west of Scotland.

"Although we are moving in the right direction, in many cases greater effort is needed to end overfishing," said Xavier Pastor, Executive Director at Oceana.

The Eurostat agency released statistics this week showing that catches declined from 8.07 million tons in 1995 to 4.94 million tons in 2010 as stocks of fish such as cod and Bluefin tuna dwindled dramatically.