FISHERIES ministers have agreed deep cuts in quotas in a bid to conserve stocks.

Reductions ranging from 25 per cent to 58 per cent were agreed to next year's catch quotas following a day of talks in Brussels.

EU Fisheries Commissioner Franz Fischler said the cuts were less draconian than last year.

But North-East fisheries leaders said they would once again hit a struggling UK fleet.

Richard Brewer, chairman of the Anglo Scottish Fish Producers Association at Whitby, said: "I have spent 35 years fishing the sea and the stocks are in a healthier position now than they have been in a long while - so it makes me wonder what the scientists are doing.

"We are going to see a lot less fishermen and the decommissioning seems to be a back door way of cutting the fleet down.

"The Spanish fishermen are asking the EU to be allowed to fish in any European waters, and that will cut it even more for us.

"None of it tallies up, and the scientists have not talked to any of the fishermen - they have just done this cart blanche. We are facing a very hard year next year."

Mr Fischler urged member states to take responsibility, warning that supplies of main fish species, particularly cod and hake, were close to extinction.

He said: "Reason has triumphed. We are still of the view that it is better to go through this difficult period and see fishing stocks restored in the future rather than taking risks."

He said there was still a glimmer of hope for beleaguered fishermen.

"We want to send the message that if they accept these measures to enable stocks to recover, that effort will be rewarded in future."

Mr Fischler has warned that key fish stocks face total collapse unless fishing, particularly in the North Sea, is slashed.