Fisheries Ministers from across the European Union yesterday agreed to phase out “discards” - where fishing crews throw back catches for fear of breaking quota rules - starting in January.
But Spain, France and Portugal won concessions that will allow crews in some circumstances to dump a restricted number of fish.
The fishing industry gave a cautions welcome to the deal but warned details on how it is implemented still have to be agreed.
UK Fisheries Minister Richard Benyon said: “This is a historic moment in reforming the broken Common Fisheries Policy.
“The scandal of discards has gone on for too long and I’m delighted that the UK has taken such a central role in securing this agreement.
“I am disappointed that some of the measures required to put this ban into place are no longer as ambitious as I had hoped but it’s a price I am willing to accept if it means we can get the other details right.
“The final package will still need to be agreed with the EU Parliament but the result we have achieved today is another step in the right direction and will prove to be good for both fishermen and the marine environment.”
The all-night discussions in Brussels saw northern european nations pressing for change with largely Mediterranean countries resisting the move.
Barrie Deas, chief executive of the York-based National Federation of Fisherman’s Organisations, said the agreement among Ministers was “only a step” and it was “imperative” that fishermen’s livelihoods are protected.
Earlier this month MEPs overwhelmingly backed the biggest-ever Common Fisheries Policy reforms, including an end to discards.
Yorkshire MEP Linda McAvan said: “It is good news that Ministers have agreed to reform the Common Fisheries Policy, but I am disappointed that they have not committed to an absolute ban on discards and are proposing to include some exceptions.
“The legislation will need to be agreed by both Ministers, and MEPs in Parliament who will continue to fight for a complete ban on throwing dead or dying fish back into our seas, before the legislation is approved.”
Fellow Yorkshire MEP Timothy Kirkhope described the deal as “an important step in the right direction”.
“The reform will bring new prosperity to the fishing sector and I am thrilled at the positive impact this should have on the work of fishermen in the EU, and especially those in my constituency on the East Coast of Yorkshire,” he said.
The Government has come under pressure from consumers on the issue of discards on the back of campaigning by celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall which has attraced the support of more than 850,000 people.
He said: “What they agreed last night is weaker and harder to enforce than the ban our MEPs in the European Parliament voted for - with a huge majority - three weeks ago.
“There’s now going to be weeks of negotiation to reach a final deal, and we will be fighting to strengthen those details and support our MEPs who want to see a discard ban that does the job it is supposed to.”
Under the deal agreed between EU Ministers yesterday, the discarding of edible fish will be banned for pelagic stocks such as herring and whiting from January 2014.
A ban for white fish stocks was also agreed, to begin in January 2016.