Summary: EU Fisheries Ministers are preparing for their annual Christmas ordeal when they meet in Brussels on December 17 and 18 for their gruelling all-night quota-setting Council. As in previous years, they meet at a time when scientists, backed by the European Commission, have recommended a number of cuts in key quotas for the European Union's fishing fleet in 1999. The Ministers will also discuss the plans for a new control regime for the EU's Common Fisheries Policy, and the reform of the Structural Funds' aid for the fisheries sector.

The Ministers will dissect virtually all the one hundred or so Total Allowable Catches (TACs) for 1999 which involve different stocks in different regions. The Commission points out that many of its recommendations are unchanged from last year. But the changes which have been made are almost all downward, reflecting a failure of most stocks to recover over the past few years. These include: - a 47% cut in whiting in the Skagerrak-Kattegat region; - the quota for North Sea cod, which enjoyed a good recruitment year of new fish in 1996, will be reduced by 5%, from 140,000 tonnes to 132,000 tonnes; - a 20-30% cut in herring off the West coast of the United Kingdom; - a 17% cut in cod around the Baltic Sea; - 20-30% cut in haddock TACs in the North Sea and off the UK's West coast; - 15% cuts in almost all hake TACs, and a 22% in horse mackerel off the UK's West coast. The cuts are expected to hit the UK and Ireland most severely, and their Ministers promise to dig their heels in to protect their national fleets. Experts believe that it is the first crucial step towards getting more young cod, haddock and whiting to survive into adulthood, which will mean more fish for fishermen and wildlife and the return of bigger fish to dinner tables. Elliot Morley, the British Fisheries Minister, admitted recently that the conservation approach was "a first". Among the notable elements in the proposal are an extension for the whole of 1999 of the ban on beam trawling in the southern North Sea; a Summer ban on cod fishing in the Baltic from July 1 to August...

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