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EU passes tricky fishing quotas

The European Union agreed Tuesday on a cut in fishing quotas for next year, hoping to stave off a total collapse of some stocks while keeping the embattled industry alive as well. After 26 straight hours of negotiating, the 15 member states watered down initial proposals from the EU's executive Commission, which sought tough measures to prevent the commercial extinction of several species. The agreed cuts went as deep as 55 percent for cod, a favorite meal all through Europe, in the Kattegat fishing area in Scandinavia. But others were well below the levels proposed. EU fisheries commissioner Franz Fischler called the results "just barely" defensible from a "biological point of view." But, he added, "We must see the results in light of the difficulties of fishermen." The proposed catch quotas had been severely criticized by the industry - a sector that has been sinking along with fish stocks - as going too far. Yet with years of annual quota reductions failing to result in any improvement of stocks so far, conservationists had argued against any bartering which would hurt stocks further. During a weekend meeting with Norway to assess stocks in the North Sea, both parties said herring and bottom-dwelling fish, except coalfish, "are close to or outside safe biological limits," an EU statement said. The two sides added that the most recent scientific advice showed "the stock of North Sea cod is still far outside safe biological limits and remains at immediate risk of collapse."