UK fishermen have welcomed a European Commission agreement to allow key cod fishing grounds to remain open, despite environmental groups warning of further damage to fish stocks.

The European Union’s Fisheries Council is to allow cod fishing grounds in the North Sea, off the west coast of Scotland and in the Irish Sea to remain open, backing down on plans to close major cod fisheries after warnings about depleted stocks, reported The Guardian.

UK ministers successfully argued that the UK fishing industry should be rewarded for adhering to national cod recovery measures over the last two years that reduced cod deaths by 56%.

“This Fisheries Council agreement builds on the cod recovery action taken in recent years. The UK fishing industry has made the biggest contribution to this and I am pleased that this has been reflected in today’s agreement,” said UK fisheries minister Ben Bradshaw.

“The UK has signalled its support for more radical measures in future, including closed areas, if the state of the stock does not improve. We look forward to working with the Commission, other member states and the fishing industry on ideas that are scientifically based and will work,” he added.

However, environmental groups criticised the deal, with the World Wildlife Fund saying it “reflected poorly” on EU member states that had shown an “unwillingness to adopt…key measures in the name of fish stock recovery”, the newspaper reported.