Ministers agreed in principle to ban discards of mackerel and herring before 2014.
A phased ban on discards of cod, haddock, plaice and sole will be implemented before 2018.
Leendert den Hollander, chief executive of Young’s Seafood, said: “Everyone wants to know that the fish on their plate has been sourced responsibly, and that food hasn’t gone to waste, and that’s why we welcome the step forward taken to tackle the issue of discards.
“Fish is such an important source of protein and it is crucial that discarding fish at sea is tackled in a way that is sustainable for the long-term. We believe that success is about doing the right thing now, and for generations to come, so momentum must be kept up on this issue as the details are worked through.”
No silver bullet
Mike Mitchell, Young’s technical and corporate social responsibility director, said there was “no silver bullet” to end the problem of fish discards.
“The causes of discarding are multi-factorial, and there is no silver bullet solution, but we have been given a positive direction of travel from the EU,” said Mitchell.
“We now encourage national governments and fishery managers to press ahead and seek pragmatic solutions to eliminate discarding as a matter of urgency.”
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs welcomed the agreement as “a major step towards radical reform of the broken Common Fisheries Policy”.
Richard Benyon, minister for the natural environment and fisheries, said: “After years of pressing to eliminate discards it was always my aim to get the Council to agree to end this wasteful practice as soon as possible.
“While I am disappointed that the Council has not agreed the firm dates that I was seeking, a commitment to eliminating discards is a step in the right direction.”
TV chef and fisheries campaigner Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall told BBC Radio4's Today programme before the meeting: “We want to see a discards ban. Half a million tonnes of fish – including prime cod – are thrown away every year because fishermen are over quota.”
Fearnley-Whittingstall said: "This is a key meeting – lines will be drawn that will be very hard to retract or adapt afterwards.”
The TV chef has led a high-profile campaign to ban fish discards based on his series for Channel 4 TV's Fish Fight. More than 650,000 people have signed a petition supporting an end to discards.
For more information about the Fish Fight campaign, click here .
The agreement must be ratified by the European Parliament and by the Commission. Insiders think this is unlikely to happen before the end of this year.