Richard Benyon, the fisheries minister, said cod stocks have begun to rise off the coasts of the UK and there is no need to impose tougher controls.

The EU wants stricter quotas on how much cod is caught and to restrict the time fishermen spend at sea.

Mr Benyon heads to Brussels today with a tough negotiating position to protect the interests of British fishing communities.

“The problem with the EU cod recovery plan is it is a bad plan – it’s no flexibility in it at all,” he told BBC Radio Four’s Today programme.

“If this cut goes ahead to quota and to the effort, the amount of time people can spend fishing, this is bad for sustainability. It’s going to result in more discards, it’s going to stop the kind of schemes which are seeing practically no discards in the North Sea from vessels in the scheme this year. And you know it is a bizarre counter proposal when the direction has been in the right direction for the last few years.”

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, the celebrity chef, said that discards should be banned altogether.

“The fact that the minister is arguing that cutting cod quota could lead to an increase in cod discards, and possibly overall cod mortality, just shows how broken the CFP system is, and how badly we need a ban on the discarding of over quota fish. That’s what Fish Fight has been campaigning for, and that’s the result we want to see pushed through the EU legislature in the next few months.

Environmentalists have been pushing for tougher controls ahead of the annual talks, warning that cod stocks are still “vulnerable”.

The WWF is worried some species could disappear altogether as the North Sea has been over-fished for too long.

The row harks back to Britain’s battles over fishing in previous decades. In the 1970s, the UK’s “cod wars” with Iceland over North Sea quotas led to confrontations between fishermen, in which nets were slashed and boats rammed

Telegraph Media Group Limited 2012