EU Ministers have agreed on a plan to combat overfishing by limiting the amount of fish that is discarded into the sea. But critics argue the deal is not good enough.
Under EU regulation, European fishermen must comply with quotas that limit them to a certain species of fish and an overall amount.
Superfluous fish are then thrown overboard, most of them die. The practice has long been condemned as wasteful and harmful to the environment.
After 21 hours of negotiations EU ministers on Wednesday morning agreed on a timetable to phase out this practice of "discard."
UK Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney, who is the president of the European Council of Fisheries Ministers and chaired the agriculture ministers' meeting, described the outcome as "a very good result."
"It was on a knife's edge right until the end on whether there would be any agreement at all," German Agriculture Minister Ilse Aigner said after the meeting.
EU trawlers fish mainly for cod, haddock and herring, but the problem of overfishing for most fish species has long been recognized as severe.
The EU Commission estimates that 23 percent of all fish caught by EU vessels are discarded. The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) warned that the northeast Atlantic has the highest discard level in the world, estimated at 1.3 million tonnes, the majority of which is attributed to EU fisheries.
EU ministers agreed that by-catch of unwanted species and juvenile fish could not be eliminated completely and a certain amount must still be allowed.
The proposed ban would be implemented gradually over the course of five years. Starting in January 2014 seven percent of unwanted fish may be thrown back into the sea as the ban is implemented gradually in European waters through 2019.
Sweden was the only country to refuse endorsing the compromise on Wednesday morning in protest to the slow introduction of the ban.
EU Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki said she wanted to provide EU money to fishermen to help them with the investments into better fishing gear such as nets that would prevent the fishing of small, young fish.
She described this as a concrete step towads the rebuilding of fish stocks and support for the coastal communities which are dependant on fishing.
The plans for the ban are now to be debated in the European Parliament, which must approve the new policy. Several lawmakers pushed for reform and could now demand greater changes.
rg/kms (dpa, AFP)