23rd March

Brexit uncertainty dominates talks at annual fisheries council

Ireland’s fishing industry has generally welcomed the outcome of annual talks that set total allowable catch quotas for 2018 valued at €266m but has reiterated the “imperative” that fisheries and trade overall must be “inextricably linked” in phase two of the Brexit negotiations.

Union Hall

Precautionary management in the Celtic Sea to impact vessels from Union Hall   

An 8% value increase in whitefish quota to 40,168 tonnes (€152m) is up 3% in volume and Ireland’s prawn quota has increased by 15%, valued at €83m.

“This is the biggest single increase in over a decade and shows the very healthy state of his stock overall,” remarked Michael Creed, Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, following the Council of Fisheries meeting in Brussels.

An increase of 34% in the whitefish quota off the north-west coast and 64% in the Irish Sea demonstrates stocks rebuilding over the past five years he added.

“Irish sea cod and haddock stocks have recovered after many years of intensive industry-led conservation measures. The cod stock in particular was in a near state of collapse since 2000.”

The Celtic Sea herring fishery however will be cut by 30% in line with an industry recommendation. The management plan is “precautionary” to rebuild the stock following a period of decline since 2015. The progress will continue the journey to rebuild fish stocks that underpin the future of our industry and coast communities,” Minister Creed added.

Future fear

While describing the outcome as “generally positive” and acknowledging the “role and commitment” of Minister Creed and his officials, Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation CEO Seán O’Donoghue said Irish fishermen feared for the future of their industry which hinged on a “fair and favourable” conclusion of phase two Brexit talks.

Irish fishermen and the eight member states of the European Fisheries Alliance are in fearful for their future as Britain and its Environment Secretary Michael Gove “continue to enunciate the protection of the UK’s fishing industry to prevent the EU using transition arrangements to impose what it calls ‘unfair quotas’,” he said.

Geographic location, existing arrangements and high dependency on Britain means Ireland is “perilously positioned” if Ireland doesn’t negotiate “extremely effectively on our behalf,” he warned.

Prior to the talks, Patrick Murphy, chief executive of the Irish South and West Fish Producers Organisation, described some of the proposed cuts as “unjustifiable and arbitrary” and “contrary to scientific advice advocating increases” on some stocks.

“We give credit to the negotiating team after hearing that this has been corrected,” he said, but noted the cuts of 20% in the mackerel fishery; 19% in whiting; 11% in haddock and 7% in hake off the west coast.

Ireland shares 47 out of its 50 Total Allowable Catch (TAC) and quota stocks with Britain and could suffer “disproportionately”.Over 11,000 jobs are sustained in coastal areas by the Irish seafood industry, worth in excess of €1.1bn.

Lack of ambition

Collaborative group Funding Fish, dedicated to achieving sustainable fisheries in Europe, noted some progress on overfishing but said added that fisheries ministers had displayed 'an unsurprising lack of ambition to deliver sustainable management of all EU fish stocks'.

Programme director Rebecca Hubbard said that the  "late night" meetings still demonstrated a “dangerous culture” when EU fisheries ministers treated the law as “flexible” and made decisions behind closed doors, cherry picking winners and losers, instead of ending overfishing.

Despite a landing obligation, discarding is not sufficiently controlled, remarked Sascha Müller, Environmental Action Germany. “When discarding isn’t controlled, and top-ups are added to TACs, stocks are not safe.”

Quotas by area https://www.agriculture.gov.ie/press/pressreleases/2017/december/title,113376,en.html

2018 at a glance

• North West: +20% monkfish; +21% horse-mackerel and +26% haddock for the ports of Greencastle and Killybegs • +15% prawn quota which benefits the ports of Clogherhead, Howth, Union Hall, Castletownbere, Dingle and Ros a Mhíl

• Irish Sea: trebling of cod stock; + 55% haddock. These stocks are mainly important for the ports of Clogherhead, Howth and Kilmore Quay

• +13% Albacore Tuna which is important for the southern ports of Castletownbere and Dingle

• South and west coast mixed whitefish fisheries: +2% in cod; roll over in monkfish; -11% haddock and -19% in whiting in accordance with the scientific advice

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