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EU cod catch reduced, but not enough for activists

The EU cut the catch limit of endangered cod in Atlantic waters on Wednesday, but angered environmental activists by falling far shy of targets scientists say are necessary to replace quickly diminishing fish stocks.

EU fisheries ministers decided to cut catches of cod in Atlantic waters off Scotland and Ireland by a quarter, to the dismay of both environmentalists who argued catches should be halved and fishermen who say the quotas will put more of them out of jobs.

Scientists have called for drastic cuts, but governments have rarely heeded their advice for fear of losing political support in fishing communities. The European Commission said last month that cod stocks have continued to decline over the past two years with no sign of recovery in key Atlantic grounds, and recommended 50 percent cuts.

Cod stocks off Scotland and Ireland now face "an almost certain scenario of collapse," said Greenpeace's Saskia Richartz.

"What we are seeing is that the ministers are closing their eyes and sticking their heads into the sand," she said.

Britain and Ireland have a vocal fishing industry who say they feel battered by years of incremental cuts in quotas. The depletion of the species has caused the decline of hundreds of fishing villages on both sides of the Atlantic.

"I have been fighting hard to protect the livelihoods of our fishermen," said Britain's Fisheries Minister Richard Benyon.

The president of the EU parliament's fisheries committee, Struan Stevenson, said even the compromise cut would be devastating for fishermen. "The range of cuts imposed by Brussels again this year will make it another bleak Christmas for our beleaguered fishing communities."

The EU has been under pressure to do more to save fish around the EU. Last month, an international conservation conference in Paris failed to take radical measures to save the Atlantic bluefin tuna, which has been severely overfished to feed the demand for sushi in Japan, a decision rubber stamped Wednesday.

Belgian Fisheries Minister Kris Peeters, who led the ministerial negotiating sessions which spilled over three days, acknowledged some nations were under intense pressure to return from Brussels with more lenient catch quotas than scientists and the EU executive Commission sought.

"If there is a proposal of cutting quotas by 40 percent, it is not at all easy to go home with a message like that," he said.

Ministers also decided to take some action against discards, the practice of throwing good fish overboard because a catch quota has already been met, a reform that fishermen and several coastal nations have been calling for.

"They have responded to our calls to find a better way to end the dreadful waste of discards, but much more can still be done," Britain's Benyon said.

Environmental groups like Greenpeace call for the creation of "marine reserves" where stocks could be protected from fishing and allowed to replenish.