Fishing quotas rise after marathon EU talks

Fishing fleets face fewer days at sea but bigger catch quotas after marathon talks which ended at dawn in Brussels.

UK Fisheries Minister Richard Benyon said he had secured 'the best possible deal' for the fishing industry after three weeks of behind the scenes negotiations and two days around the negotiating table.

Britain fended off moves to cut fishermen's days at sea to just four a fortnight next year, in exchange for greater national fish conservation efforts.

But boats will still be confined to ports for longer than before - making it tougher to capitalise on some big rises in fish catch quotas which reflect that conservation is working in some regions.

Mr Benyon said: '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.

'By arguing that we should follow scientific advice we have been able to agree quotas that will not only allow local fishermen to make a living but will also ensure that we can protect the environment.

'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.'

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Major increases in catch allowances for 2012 are a doubling of the north-east coast herring quota and a 150pc rise in south-west cod catches.

Smaller rises include 25pc bigger catches for south-west haddock, and 15pc increases each for north -east haddock and north-east and south-west whiting, and a 9pc rise in Channel sole catches.

The retention of this year's Northern Irish scampi catch allowance will help protect the region's fishing industry in 2012, said Mr Benyon.

He also argued successfully for the continuation of existing quota levels for whitefish stocks in areas where the European Commission proposed 25pc reductions.

But an overall cut in days at sea will still hit hard-pressed fleets, particularly in designated cod recovery zones under the Commission's Cod Recovery Plan, where efforts to revive depleted stocks have only partially succeeded so far.

Up to now, the 18 small fishing vessels at Great Yarmouth, Lowestoft and Southwold – a small remnant of the region's once-mighty fleet – are only allowed to catch one tonne of cod and 100kg of skate a month each.

To survive financially, some fishermen are forced to go cap in hand to slipper skippers, some of whom are ex-fishermen, to lease their quotas off them so they can catch extra cod and skate to pay their bills. A typical fee could see a fishermen pay a slipper skipper half the price of his catch.