BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union's fisheries chief proposed on Wednesday a cut of up to a third in the amount of cod the bloc's fishermen can catch next year, warning that stocks are at risk of collapse in some areas.
Scottish fishermen are likely to be worst affected by such quota limits after the European Commission proposed a continued ban in 2014 on landings of cod off Scotland's Atlantic west coast to try to avert a possible crash in numbers.
Cod stocks off other parts of Britain, Ireland and in the Bay of Biscay are also in a dire state, Greek EU fisheries commissioner Maria Damanaki said, meaning quotas in these regions should be reduced by up to a third.
But fishermen whose incomes have been hard-hit in recent years by too many vessels chasing too few fish will be hoping for a reprieve when EU fisheries ministers gather in Brussels in December to approve the catch quotas.
Traditionally, ministers have set quotas above the strict levels proposed by the Commission in an effort to appease powerful domestic fishing industries.
Prized for its flaky white flesh, cod is one of the most widely consumed fish in Europe, used in dishes from British fish and chips to Spanish bacalao. It was the subject of naval clashes between Iceland and Britain in the 1950s and 1970s.
The Commission said it had based its proposals on the latest scientific evidence on the state of EU fish stocks. Similar warnings on haddock numbers in the north Atlantic led the Commission to propose slashing quotas by up to three-quarters in some areas.
But better news for other species resulted in proposals to sharply increase some catch quotas, including hake, herring, plaice and megrim.
"Overall, our knowledge of many stocks has improved, which enables sound management decisions to be made," Damanaki said in a statement.
A deal reached in May to reform the EU's common fisheries policy from next year will largely do away with the annual haggling over quotas, by ensuring that fishing opportunities are tied more closely to scientific advice on the state of stocks.
(Reporting by Charlie Dunmore; Editing by Mark Heinrich)