The European Parliament has voted for sweeping reforms of the controversial EU Common Fisheries Policy.
Our objective is that depleted fish stocks recover by 2020. Not only nature will benefit, but also fishermen: bigger stocks produce higher yields”Ulrike Rodust, German Social Democrat MEP
The package includes measures to protect endangered stocks and end discards - the practice of throwing unwanted dead fish into the sea.
Wasteful discards are reckoned to account for a quarter of total catches under the current quota system.
There are hopes that the changes can become law by next year, after more talks with the 27 EU governments.
The MEPs voted for the package by 502 votes to 137.
The Greens in parliament called the vote "historic". Spokeswoman Isabella Lovin said it would "finally put the EU's fisheries policy on a sustainable footing".
A fishing alliance, Europeche, says the reforms are too sudden and too radical.
With an estimated 75% of Europe’s stocks overfished, there has been enormous public and media pressure over this latest attempt to shake up the CFP.
The reform package was presented to the full parliament in Strasbourg by the German Social Democrat MEP Ulrike Rodust.
She said the reforms “will bring an end to the December ritual of fisheries ministers negotiating until 4am, neglecting scientific advice and setting too high fishing quotas.
“As of 2015, the principle of maximum sustainable yield shall apply, which means that each year we do not harvest more fish than a stock can reproduce. Our objective is that depleted fish stocks recover by 2020. Not only nature will benefit, but also fishermen: bigger stocks produce higher yields.”
She said fishermen had to be helped through a transitional period as fishing capacity shrank to allow stocks to recover.
MEPs are sharing power with the Council - the EU governments - on fisheries policy for the first time. There is still some dispute about the amount of influence MEPs can exert over fishing quotas.
Under the new proposals, the EU will shift from the current bargaining over quotas - a system often attacked by environmental groups - to fishing based on "maximum sustainable yield" (MSY).
The phasing in of MSY depends on collecting more scientific data about the rate at which different marine species reproduce.
The environmental group Greenpeace welcomed the MEPs' vote on Wednesday, saying the reforms would help to promote small-scale and low-impact fishing methods.
Greenpeace says small-scale fishing vessels measuring 12m (40ft) or less make up about 80% of the European fishing sector and usually cause less environmental harm.
The group's spokesperson on EU fisheries policy, Saskia Richartz, called it "a momentous shift away from overfishing".
"National governments that stand in the way of reform, like Spain and France, will find it increasingly hard to act as proxies for a handful of powerful companies, with no concern for the long-term wellbeing of the oceans or the majority of fishermen," she said.
Atlantic bluefin tuna is the most overfished species in European waters.
But the environmental group WWF says EU fisheries have also faced a 32% decline in stocks of cod, plaice and sole since 1993.
The fish catch in the North Sea has slumped from 3.5m tonnes in 1995 to 1.5m tonnes in 2007, WWF reports.
Photo courtesy of Ocean2012: European Fish Weeks Events