By Kate Abnett
BRUSSELS, March 23 (Reuters) – European Union ministers agreed on Tuesday to extend to the end of July the bloc’s catch limits for fish stocks shared with Britain, to ensure fishing can continue uninterrupted while Brussels and London seek a full-year deal.
In their post-Brexit trade deal, the EU and Britain agreed to jointly set limits each year for fishing their shared stocks after Britain completed its exit from the 27-country bloc on Dec. 31.
They had hoped to negotiate this month a full-year agreement on fishing opportunities for 2021.
As a temporary solution, EU ministers agreed to keep applying last year’s EU catch limits for shared stocks until July 31. The temporary rule, covering stocks including plaice, cod, haddock and whiting, was due to expire on March 31.
“We found a solution so that EU fleets can continue to operate in their traditional fishing grounds after 31 March,” said Portuguese maritime minister Ricardo Serrao Santos, who chaired the meeting.
The agreement is a contingency plan, and should be replaced shortly by an EU-British agreement, he told a news conference.
Brussels sets annual limits on catches from around 100 commercial stocks of fish shared between EU countries in European waters, to avoid over-fishing.
The EU and Britain are also negotiating catch limits for shared deep-sea stocks in 2022.
Separately, Norway, Britain and the EU this month reached a deal on catch limits for jointly managed North Sea fish stocks following Brexit.
Access to one another’s fish stocks became a vexed issue in Brexit divorce negotiations, with the two sides ultimately agreeing a gradual fall in the quotas European fleets can catch in British waters, reaching a 25% reduction in value terms after 5-1/2 years.
After that, there will be annual talks to set the amount EU boats can catch in British waters and vice-versa. (Reporting by Kate Abnett Editing by John Chalmers and Giles Elgood)