By Julia Fioretti
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Commission proposed on Friday an overall cut in quotas for deep sea fishing in the northeast Atlantic for the next two years, but environmental groups said it should have reduced some catch limits to zero to allow stocks to recover.
In its proposal, to be discussed by member states in November, the Commission suggested increasing total allowable catches for four species, decreasing them for nine stocks and leaving them unchanged for five fish stocks, compared to 2014.
If agreed by member states, the limits would take effect from Jan. 1 next year.
Under its reformed Common Fisheries Policy, agreed last year, the European Union committed to ending decades of over-fishing and rebuilding its depleted fish stocks by 2020.
Deep-sea fish species such as deep-sea sharks and red seabream are particularly vulnerable to the effects of overfishing because of their slower reproduction cycles and slow growth rate.
The Commission, the EU's executive arm, is proposing a reduction of up to 62 percent in catches of red seabream in the northeast Atlantic.
"Deep sea ecosystems and fish stocks are particularly vulnerable to human activities such as fishing and need appropriate protection," Maritime Affairs Commissioner Maria Damanaki said in a statement.
"It is good news that the scientific advice allows for increases for a number of these stocks, but unfortunately the situation is bleak for most other stocks."
The forkbeard is among the species for which the Commission would raise the fishing quota. The allowable catch would remain unchanged for the orange roughy, also known as the slimehead.
Some environmental groups are calling on the European Union to ban deep sea fishing altogether, while accepting that in the near term tighter regulation is the only realistic option.
A proposal on reform has been mired in debate involving member states and the European Parliament.
"We therefore call on the Commission to suspend all deep-sea fisheries until the situation has been resolved," said Saskia Richartz, oceans policy director at Greenpeace.
Friday's proposal on fish quotas only requires the approval of member states, which will then debate them later this year.
They will also have to debate catch limits for Baltic fish that the Commission is expected to propose in the coming weeks.
The marine conservation group Oceana said Friday's proposals did not go far enough and said the Commission should have proposed a fishing limit of zero for some types of fish, such as roundnose grenadier and red seabream.
This would prevent fishermen from targeting those species, although by-catches would be allowed.
EU restrictions on the size of catches regularly produce heated debate and in 2013 the limits came under fire from environmental groups for not following scientific advice.
The Commission says its annual catch limits are based on scientific advice, although on Friday it said the data available for most deep-sea stocks were insufficient to allow scientists to fully assess their state.
(Editing by Gareth Jones)