BRUSSELS — European Union (EU) nations have reached a deal to tighten some fishing rules in its Northeastern Atlantic waters and the North Sea to edge closer toward a fully sustainable industry by 2020, but environmentalists said lenient quotas still allowed for far too much overfishing.
After marathon talks that started Monday and finished only early Wednesday, EU fisheries ministers said more stocks will be fished at maximum sustainable yield in hopes of pushing more species to within safe biological limits after decades of overfishing.
Ministers from fisheries nations such as Britain and France came away happy enough with increased quotas for some stocks of cod and mackerel, a sign environmentalists and maritime scientists would be left grumbling about the slow recovery of the EU’s vast eastern waters.
“We worked constructively to put people’s livelihoods first,” Scottish Fisheries Secretary Fergus Ewing said, adding he had “secured crucial increases for the majority of our key species.”
However, what sounded appealing to many of the fishermen left a bad taste in the mouth of environmental organizations.
The EU has about 145,000 fishermen, many of whom have struggled as overfishing depleted stocks and increasingly tight quotas were imposed. The EU is legally bound to return to sustainable fishing by 2020, but faces an uphill task to get there in time.
That task only will become tougher if fishing quotas are set too high as the deadline approaches.
The EU said that under Wednesday’s decision, 44 stocks will now be fished to maximum sustainable yield compared to only 36 last year.
“Overall, more fish stocks are being fished sustainably,” EU Fisheries Commissioner Karmenu Vella said.
The Pew Charitable Trusts said too many stocks still would be hunted with quotas that go beyond scientific advice.
The Oceana environmental group was among the organizations protesting the deal.
“Half of Atlantic stocks are already overfished and overfishing will now continue into 2017,” Lasse Gustavsson, executive director of Oceana in Europe, said.
“By ignoring science in favor of short-term interests, Ministers are acting both economically and ecologically irresponsibly,” Gustavsson said.