LUXEMBOURG (Reuters) – EU fisheries ministers put aside a bitter north-south divide yesterday to agree how to spend a multimillion-euro program on the embattled fisheries sector, striking a deal on their third attempt in a year. The plan for the next seven years’ spending, set at 3.8 billion euros, had been on the table since July 2004. Since May, national experts have hammered out a series of technical changes that finally proved acceptable to a majority of EU governments. The most controversial area concerned EU aid for replacing engines for small-scale vessels as well as cash for modernizing boats: concepts that angered northern states worried about chronically low stocks depleted after years of overfishing. This is where EU countries have often clashed in a rough north-south divide, with France, Spain, Italy, Greece and Portugal, backed by new joiners Poland and Estonia, demanding the right for a straight swap of engine if required. This view ran against those held by countries like Britain, Denmark, Germany, Sweden and the Netherlands, who said generous engine replacement rules might cause more overfishing when EU policy aims to protect threatened species like cod. Young fishermen aged under 40 buying their first boats will qualify for EU aid if they can prove they have worked in this capacity at least five years. The European Commission, which drafted the 2007-13 spending plan, has targeted five areas: reducing fishing, and environment protection schemes; fish farming and general marketing; «common interest» projects like modernizing ports, finding new markets; sustainable development of coastal areas; and expert reports. Its general aim, apart from encouraging the use of environmentally friendly equipment and practices in fishing and aquaculture, was to help reduce the intensity of fishing operations in order to foster the recovery of overfished stocks. Agriculture and Rural Development Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel said the deal was a good compromise between the «friends of fish» and «the friends of fishermen,» respectively.