Ireland, which holds the rotating EU council presidency, says it's determined to forge a consensus on the discard ban in the meeting, which was to begin Monday in Brussels.
The European Parliament, which began involved in issues related to the European Union's Common Fisheries Policy for the first time this year, took a hard line on discard ban in a vote this month, mandating that it take effect 2015, one year later than sought by European Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki.
She has endorsed a strict ban on discarding, which environmentalists say is an unsound and wasteful practice in which fish that can't be legally caught -- most often juveniles -- are thrown back into the sea to die.
The measure would require fishing fleets to carry out costly modifications to their equipment and change their methods so they don't accidentally catch prohibited fish.
The discard ban is essential in achieving the larger goal of replenishing fish stocks and ending overfishing in EU waters, backers say.
However, the fishing industry and certain member states such France, Spain, Portugal and Malta contend the quick timetable is unrealistic for their fleets and are pressing for a delay until 2015 or even 2016, Europolitics.com reported.
Irish Minister for Agriculture, Food and Marine Simon Coveney said his goal in the council meeting is to find a common ground that will produce an agreement among member states before the Irish presidency concludes in June.
But it won't be easy, he admitted.
"I am under no illusion of the challenges the effective implementation of a discards policy pose for European fishermen and for the member states of the EU," he said.
But Coveney also promised he will "work intensively with my European ministerial colleagues over the course of the February Council to deliver a policy with an ambitious timetable for implementation that will end the discarding of fish and support the rebuilding of fish stocks and the future of coastal communities depending on fishing."
The Irish leader said a discard ban is especially needed in the northeast Atlantic, which the United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organization has tagged as the most wasteful fishery in the world.
There, an estimated at 1.3 million tons per year of fish are thrown back, while the European Commission itself estimates that 23 percent of all fish caught by EU vessels are discarded.
"It is imperative that European fisheries ministers collectively take this progressive but challenging decision now and cooperate in agreeing appropriate and effective measures to eliminate discards with ambitious timelines," Coveney said.
The fishing industry, however, is pushing to avoid a blanket ban on discards -- a position that has the support of several key EU member states.
"The fishing industry is fully in agreement that discarding fish is an unacceptable waste of natural resources that must be addressed," a statement issued by a coalition of European industry groups said.
"We are, however, convinced that the simplistic and populist approach of a total ban on discards will not work and that a rational approach to the discards issue is required that puts discards measures in an operational and managerial context of fisheries and fisheries management."
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