'Give us control of fish quotas'
The British Government will today demand Brussels officials relinquish their control of fisheries, which has angered the region's coastal communities for decades.
Fisheries Minister Richard Benyon will meet European Union counterparts in a crunch meeting over reform of the controversial Common Fisheries Policy.
Top of the UK's wish-list will be to allow Britain to meet quotas in alliance with France, Norway and other fishing nations – rather than following edicts set by remote officials and influenced by landlocked EU members.
The Conservative minister will also push to end the scandal of dead "discard" fish being thrown back into the sea, and for the continuing replenishment of depleted fish stocks.
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Ahead of the Luxembourg summit, the minister told journalists in Westminster: "This is a broken policy. Fish stocks are under intense pressure. There's ineffective micro-management from Brussels. A lack of regional involvement. And of course the public outrage at the waste of discards.
"This is the backdrop of a once-in-decade opportunity against which we must deliver radical reform."
EU control of fisheries was introduced to stop angry disputes in the 1970s, with unpopular quotas set by Brussels since 1983.
The many fishing communities in the South West have long complained about the system that allows countries such as Spain – which has Europe's biggest fleet – to get the largest quotas while most of its fishing is done in British and Irish waters.
Mr Benyon will today lobby ministers from the 27 member states to "regionalise" the CFP, a move many believe is the closest Britain will get to a repatriation of fisheries policy.
Britain would determine how to meet fish quotas with national governments such as France, Norway and Denmark – but with a shared common goal of delivering sustainable fishing.
If successful, it would lead to fewer restrictions on the Westcountry fishing industry and more influence from the communities.
Mr Benyon told the Western Morning News: "In December I sat in a room with the commission discussing where eliminator panels should sit in a net – a thousand miles away from where those fishermen are fishing. It is an absurd level of micro-management.
"We want all those people who fish in a sea basin to work together to say 'this is how we are going to decide – we are going to decide with our local industry'.
Pointing out that allowing countries with no coastline, such as Austria, to have a say over net sizes in the North Sea would be " absurd", he added: "I want decisions taken about net sizes in the Western Channel taken by those that fish there."
One of the most unpopular aspects of the policy has been the dumping of dead fish back in the sea. So-called "discards" result from a ban on bringing to shore certain species of fish netted accidentally or which push vessels over-quota.
Some have questioned whether the European Commission's bid to bring in a swift ban on discarding fish overboard would be effective.
A discard ban "could be in place by 2014" Mr Benyon said, adding that Britain is "at the radical end of reform".
He said: "The CFP must include a clear legally binding agreement on discards, including deadlines coupled with the practical means to deliver this. We will continue to press for robust commitments to ensure we can eliminate discards quickly, reflecting the strength of feeling among the British public."
The British Government faces resistance from France and Spain in particular, which net some of the biggest catches. But he insisted restrictions still need to be placed on fishing stocks under what is known as the "maximum sustainable yield".
He said: "Overfishing has been a central failing of the current CFP. The new CFP must ensure catches are set at a level that is sustainable.
"This means including in the CFP a clear legal commitment and deadlines to achieving 'maximum sustainable yield' as soon as possible in line with our international commitments."
The European Commission's proposals for reform were published a year ago.
Mr Benyon said he expects negotiations to continue "well into 2013". He said today's conference "will give us a clear steer on the direction the reform".
He added: "This is not just about today's generation of fishermen. This is about encouraging their sons, grandsons, grandchildren to go into an industry which at the moment, I completely understand why people think it's not viable. It's a dangerous activity and the returns are at best marginal.
"I want them to see a vision that recognises that restoring stocks has an economic benefit in the future."