Haggling begins as EU prepares to set 2020 fishing quotas

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Haggling over EU fishing quotas for next year has begun in Brussels, and fisheries ministers from member states look likely to ignore scientific advice and argue for higher quotas for key stocks.

Fish populations have shown signs of recovery in some areas but key stocks including cod, seabass, hake and herring are still overfished, scientists say. The EU pledged to end overfishing by 2020 as part of changes to the common fisheries policy agreed in 2013.

Quotas for North Sea cod were halved at a meeting last week after warnings that stocks had plunged. The European commission had argued for a deeper cut but the fishing industry and ministers would not agree.

The annual Agriculture and Fisheries Council meeting to decide quotas was supposed to be a thing of the past, under the reforms of the common fisheries policy that were enacted in 2013 after years of talks. Under those changes, by 2020 the setting of fishing quotas was to have been governed by scientific advice on the maximum sustainable yield, and the quotas set for several years at a time in advance.

But ministers failed to embrace those changes in practice, and the horse-trading of these annual meetings is ongoing, with decisions taken on a short-term and political basis based on countries’ perceived self-interest rather than the best long-term plans to conserve stocks.

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