18th January

Fisheries representative says mackerel review is totally parochial

The Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation (KFO) has called on Michael Creed, Ireland's Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, to focus "all his energies" on protecting Irish fisheries ahead of Brexit and to "immediately withdraw a flawed mackerel sharing review on which important time and resources are being squandered".

10.2fisheries Killybegs

Sean O'Donoghue added that the UK Fisheries Minister, George Eustice, has already claimed British fishermen will catch "hundreds of thousands of tonnes more fish after Brexit" while Ireland, which shares 47 out of its 50 Total Allowable Catches (TAC) with the UK, "stands to lose catastrophically" from an EU without Britain.

Thirty-one per cent of 2016 Irish catches come from UK waters; the two main species for Irish fishermen were mackerel and nephrops, requiring from 40% to 60% access to British fishing grounds.

"With Irish seafood exports to the UK worth in excess of €71m annually and the shared resource, which the fisheries sector uniquely represents between both countries, the Irish fishing sector is perilously positioned as the high-end negotiations around Brexit continue apace."

The KFO representative was speaking ahead of a ‘Seafood Sectoral Civic Dialogue’ on Brexit (Feb 1) to discuss the potential impact on Irish fisheries.

"With the unprecedented and particularly demanding challenges presented by Brexit, it’s even more baffling why a ludicrous review is playing out in tandem with this issue causing unnecessary distraction."

He called for the Irish Government to make fisheries a "top priority" in the negotiations around Brexit and to ensure that the sector "is not used as a bargaining chip" in reaching a final outcome.

"Given the importance of the negotiations, why is a wholly unnecessary review being undertaken into mackerel quota in the first instance"

"This review into the distribution of additional mackerel is pitting different producer organisations against each other at a time when Ireland needs to be focused on the Brexit issue more than ever," he said.

O'Donoghue added that the course of action being adopted by Minister Creed was "fundamentally flawed" and endeavoured to penalise the Refrigerated Seawater (RSW) sector "in a disproportionate and unfair manner" whereby the fishing industry in the northwest was "deprived of more than €10m of a mackerel catch in 2017".

It has since come to light that the scientific advice used to calculate the 2017 TAC was "erroneous", meaning a sizeable cut of 13% on 2016 catches rather than a 14% increase it had previously advised, he added.

"Aside from the obvious embarrassment of such a mistake in estimating stock size, it has created huge uncertainty for our members who are trying to run businesses and provide employment."

O'Donoghue said the organisation would be writing to Minister Creed to inform him "in no uncertain terms" that they "will not stand idly by and allow hard-won quota" to be taken from them when they have endured a 15% cut in mackerel quota last year, and now the prospect of further reductions.

"We will be formally asking him to withdraw the review in light of these developments while also underlining that there was no basis whatsoever, other than parochial, for the review in first place.

"When an increase in the Irish mackerel quota was mooted, the Minister appeared open to the idea of making it available to 27 vessels in the polyvalent sector who have a mackerel entitlement for no reason other than purely parochial."

He added that if that was allowed to happen it would result in the loss of jobs at sea in Donegal, as well as employment ashore in the highly-developed pelagic industry in the northwest.

"Moreover, it ignores the fact that those 27 vessels who stand to benefit from this ludicrous review have already been boosted by a mackerel tonnage percentage increase of 750% since 2000,” he said. 

The Irish RSW fleet in Killybegs has invested heavily in specialised vessels that have played a "major role" in developing an Irish mackerel fishery and establishing a credible track record in catching mackerel prior to introduction of Total Allowable Catch (TAC) and quotas system in 1983.

"Without this excellent track record, Ireland’s current 21.2 % percentage share of the western TAC would probably be only in the region of 1% to 2%," he concluded.

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