The ministers' decision this month affected just 80 million euros ($104 million) worth of fish, but was seen as an important test case in a series of bruising encounters with European Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki who has pledged to put the long-term health of fisheries ahead of short-term profits.
The European Union is trying to nurse its fish stocks back to health after decades of over-exploitation. Deep-sea fish are particularly vulnerable as they reproduce so slowly. Ministers agreed to continue a ban on fishing for orange roughy, a vulnerable species that can live for more than 100 years.
The ministers agreed to curb important deep-sea fisheries on the eastern continental slopes of the Atlantic in 2011-12: by up to 7.5 percent annually for black scabbardfish and 13 percent for roundnose grenadiers. Quotas for forkbeards and blue ling were unchanged.
Fishing nations led by France, Spain and Portugal rejected advice that bluefin tuna catches should be halved to give the species a fair chance of survival. In the event, quotas were cut by a mere 4 percent. However, catch quotas for deep-sea sharks were set at zero, with zero tolerance from 2012 for the sale of sharks netted as bycatch while trawling for other species.
Conservationists, including WWF and the Pew group, said many sharks would still be scooped up accidentally, then dumped overboard, particularly by French and Spanish boats trawling the deep seabed northwest of Scotland and Ireland.
The Atlantic's main scientific authority, the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES), says all northeast Atlantic deep-sea species are fished beyond safe biological limits. Fishermen land about 40,000 tonnes a year of about 70 species of deep-sea fish from the northeast Atlantic, representing about 1.2 percent of total EU fishing.