BRUSSELS - EU fisheries ministers snagged a deal on quotas to salvage dwindling stocks in waters around the 15-nation bloc, despite protests from many fishermen concerned for their livelihoods.
The Dec. 19 breakthrough came after two days and one all-night session in an annual round of talks, following a presentation of new proposals by the EU's Italian presidency in a bid to meet concerns notably by France and Ireland.
"It is a balanced compromise. Fishermen will see that these programs will boost security for their future," said EU Fisheries Commissioner Franz Fischler, while acknowledging that "the next few years will not be easy" for some.
In the end, the accord struck in the early hours partially met the demands of France and Ireland, which have some of the biggest fishing communities in the European Union, while totally ignoring those of Belgium.
While France and Ireland lost out in some areas, their fishermen will be able to fish for longer than initially proposed - in Ireland's case given 12 days per month instead of six, although Dublin had sought 15 days, to bring it in line with Northern Ireland.
The two main accords in Brussels were passed by majority votes rather than unanimity: All but one EU country voted through a compromise plan to rebuild stocks of cod and hake, with Belgium abstaining.
A deal fixing quotas for next year in the EU's 46 fishing zones was backed by 13 states, with Germany and Sweden against.
Brussels, mindful of the impact on fishing communities, had stopped short of seeking a total ban on fishing for certain species including cod, as sought by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea.
Spanish Fisheries Minister Miguel Arias Canete, whose country appeared to be the big winner of the all-night haggling, was visibly pleased as the ministers emerged into the gray light of the morning of Dec. 19.
"The result is very satisfactory. We obtained increases on almost all species," he said, adding that the deal "should calm the Spanish fishing industry."