By Julia Fioretti
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Commission has proposed a reduction in catch limits for some types of Atlantic herring to zero to fight overfishing while increasing limits for horse mackerel.
Tuesday's proposal sets the limits on the total amount of fish that can be caught by European Union fishermen in the Atlantic and North Sea in 2015 to enable Europe's depleted fish stocks to recover from decades of overfishing.
The Commission, the European Union executive, proposed a cut in the catch limits for 40 stocks, such as cod from the Irish Sea, and an increase for 29 stocks, including lobster from the Norwegian Sea.
"For some stocks in a poor state, the picture remains alarming," the Commission said in a statement. "Cod in the west of Scotland is a real problem, with extremely high rates of discarding, and is still at risk of collapse."
EU ministers will discuss the proposals in mid-December. If agreed, they would take effect from Jan. 1.
Reaction to the proposals was mixed. Environmental group Oceana welcomed them as a sign that the Commission is serious about tackling overfishing under the reformed common fisheries policy agreed last year.
However, Uta Bellion, director of scientific organization Pew's marine program, said the limits do not go far enough to end overfishing in 2015.
By agreeing to the reformed common fisheries policy the EU committed to putting all fish stocks on a sustainable footing by 2015 where possible, or 2020 at the latest.
"The longer ministers yield to short-term interest and delay ending overfishing, the greater the loss to communities dependent on these fisheries and to the marine environment," Bellion said.
Overall, the Commission proposed increases to fewer stocks than it did last year. According to its preliminary figures, the value of EU fish catches will decrease to 860 million euros ($1.10 billion) from 970 million euros. However the catch limits for some fish stocks still need to be set, meaning the figure could change.
Total allowable catches for horse mackerel off the coast of Portugal were increased by 70 percent, while those for some types of herring off the coasts of Ireland and Scotland were cut to zero, meaning that only by-catches will be allowed.
The Commission says that its annual catch limits are based on scientific evidence.
(Editing by David Goodman and William Hardy)