Campaigners say agreement after two days of talks in the European Union’s headquarters in the Belgian capital, Brussels, allows for more fish to be caught than is sustainable.
Fishing fleets will be allowed to extract more fish from European waters than scientists advise is safe next year, after the negotiations on the EU’s fishing quotas.
A report carried in Britain’s The Guardian newspaper says nearly half of the quotas set were in excess of the best scientific advice, according to the sea conservation organisation Oceana.
Greenpeace said the agreement allowed for more fish to be caught than was sustainable, pointing to scientific concerns about overfishing of stocks around Ireland, including in the Irish Sea, north-west of Scotland and in the wider Atlantic waters west of Ireland.
There were particular warnings that there should be no fishing at all for herring west of Scotland and Ireland, no fishing for sole in the Irish Sea and a 50 per cent cut for most haddock stocks in the northeast Atlantic.
The Britain’s fishing fleet, which provides about 11,800 jobs, will retain the same number of days at sea as last year, which the fishing minister, Richard Benyon, hailed as a victory.
Maria Damanaki, the EU fisheries commissioner, managed to stave off some of the proposals made by member states for taking even more fish.
Better scientific data is now available on many stocks, with 85 per cent now showing sufficient data compared with about 40 per cent in the past.
She said: “The commission’s proposal on quota cuts was more ambitious but I think the outcome is satisfactory.
“This is a good message for our fishermen and for our citizens.
“We can have healthy stocks, more jobs and more income for our coastal communities.
“If we have the reform of the common fisheries policy in place next year, this will improve the decision-making process and the progress made in the European parliament this week gives us good hope.”
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said automatic reductions in the number of days at sea was increasing the number of discards, particularly of cod.
With fewer fishing days, fleets would not have enough time to get to the areas where cod fishing would be most sustainable and might have been forced to target younger fish closer to shore, it said.
The European Commission has proposed a 20 per cent cut in the cod quota, but the UK opposes that.
Mr Benyon said: “We were able to secure the best possible deal for the UK fishing industry.”
The Guardian says the annual rounds of wrangling over quotas are set to end soon, if proposals for sweeping reforms of the EU common fisheries policy are successful.
Under the new system, allowable catches would be set as far as five years in advance, with more say for member state governments in deciding how to dole out the quotas to their fleets.
“This deal on quotas for 2013 shows that the council of fisheries ministers has also finally understood that steps towards sustainable fisheries will require a level of discipline in setting fishing quotas.
“But their measures remain too timid, with many quotas still set above the recommended levels.”
Xavier Pastor, European executive director of Oceana, said: “Now more than ever, decision-makers have the tools they need to responsibly manage the stocks, but unfortunately it seems they do not want to use them.
“By ignoring 48 per cent of the scientific advice, the quotas can hardly ensure sustainability nor can they guarantee reaching the maximum sustainable yield objective.”