EU talks on fish quota deal continue


THE ANNUAL negotiation on European fishing rights continued late last night in Brussels as EU fisheries ministers sought to hammer out a difficult compromise deal over the allocation of quotas for 2011.

After two days of talks, the atmosphere was said to be tense as ministers pushed to increase quotas proposed last month by EU fisheries commissioner Maria Damanaki.

“The negotiations are extraordinarily difficult this year. We are pursuing our key interests in cod, haddock, whiting, mackerel, herrings and prawns,” Minister of State for Fisheries Seán Connick said after 10pm last night.

“Ireland has presented its scientific arguments to the commission and the Belgian presidency. We are working to improve on the commission’s proposal and to secure better quotas for Irish fishermen based on scientific advice.”

The proposal from Ms Damanaki, the Greek commissioner, has met resistance in Irish fishing circles as it includes drastic reductions in quotas for cod and other species. Industry figures have accused her of ignoring stakeholders.

But environmentalists pressed her not to back down, saying commitments made by EU governments and the commission itself compel them to follow scientific advice on catch levels.

As bilateral talks between member states and Ms Damanaki’s team continued, a well-placed EU source said negotiators were working on the basis that a second compromise proposal would be circulated around midnight with a round-table session not likely before 1am.

The commissioner is said to have adopted a very hard line in the talks and has warned of “disappointing news” on some quota levels. “Past experience has shown that those who think they can negotiate with nature will not have a long future in fishing,” she said.

At the heart of her proposal was a demand for a 50 per cent cut in the cod quota in light of scientific evidence which suggests the species is not recovering from over-fishing. Ms Damanaki argues cod stocks in the Irish Sea and to the west of Scotland showed no signs of being replenished and should be protected. She has portrayed herself as a crusading commissioner, determined to reform the union’s controversial fishing policy.

Her original proposals embrace a 72 per cent decrease in cod quotas in the west of Scotland and a 62 per cent cut in the Irish Sea, ahead of the closure of those fisheries in 2012. She also proposed a 40 per cent cut in the quota for Celtic Sea cod. However, environmentalists said large quota reductions were the only way to protect cod stocks for the long term. “With the cod fishing, we’re not saying halt it forever. We’re saying halt it until the stocks recover,” said Karin Dupsky of Coast Watch.

Arguing for the retention of the target to cut fishing for cod by 50 per cent, she called for the introduction of more selective equipment for prawn-fishing as most of the equipment used currently sweeps up cod which must be discarded if there is no quota for it.

She also said a moratorium on commercial seabass fishing should be retained.