22nd September

POST Brexit: implications for Ireland's fishing industry

“This is not going to be business as usual; there will be extremely complex and difficult negotiations,” remarked Sean O’Donoghue, Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation.

O’Donoghue was speaking at a hastily convened breakfast briefing before BIM’s national seafood conference in July, along with Barry Deas, National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations and Cecil Beamish, ASG, Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, chaired by broadcaster Olivia O’Leary.

Brexit Briefing Olivia OLeary

Brexit briefing and Our Ocean Wealth conference moderator, broadcaster and journalist, Olivia O'Leary

Under current arrangements, ‘Coastal States’ of Norway, the Faroes and Iceland, negotiate with the EU on the annual mackerel quota.

“In future, I will be sitting opposite Barry Deas because the UK would be a Coastal State. The UK has made it clear – and I would do the same in their shoes ― they will be looking for a larger share of these stocks. If that happens, the big losers will be Ireland, because we would have the largest mackerel share in the EU,” he added.

“Our two main stocks from an economic point of view are mackerel and nephrops. We will need access to UK waters regarding mackerel as roughly 40-50% of our activity is there. The situation will be similar regarding nephrops,” he added.

“I see the December Fisheries Council becoming irrelevant; the major issue will be the bilaterals between the EU and the UK.”

Post negotiations

O’Donoghue believes if Article 50 is triggered, the UK could seek to negotiate an arrangement similar to the European Economic Area that Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein operate.

“Ireland and the UK are so interlinked so even with the UK exiting, I will be looking to my UK and Scottish colleagues. At an industry level, can we not have some agreement - at least between ourselves – even if at political level we can’t?” he asked.

Noting the UK as a major player in the Regional Advisory structure, Scotland and the UK would be gone, he warned. “It makes nonsense of these Councils.”

While acknowledging nothing would change for some time, O’Donoghue says it would be “foolish” to think change isn’t going to happen. “We need to plan and we need to work out what we need.”

Post Brexit, O’Donoghue says Ireland will do well, just to stay as it is.

“Once we remain part of the EU, we have obligations and have ‘relative stability’ as a percentage share under the CFP. That won’t change; all that will happen is that the UK will be outside that arrangement. We may have a higher percentage but we will still end up with the same share because the UK share will be gone.”

In turn, he said the UK could well argue that outside the EU, they will seek a larger share, which would have to be deducted from elsewhere.

“Otherwise, stock management would collapse, and that will not be allowed to happen.”

NFFO position

Representing fishermen in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, Barry Deas contends a “substantial” part of the industry supported the Leave Campaign.

“At the grass roots anyway, and there were reasons for them to believe it would lead to an improvement in their standing.”

He said that could mean moving away from central control of the Common Fisheries Policy “and that certainly has attractions”. Deas believes it might be possible to renegotiate quota “from a position of strength” and that access arrangements could also be revisited.

Deas suggested that the UK could possibly set its own autonomous quotas “but the danger of that of course is that everybody takes 105%, and then you’re into problems”.

Another option he said would be to follow the Norwegian model where TACs are set in agreement but the technical rules of where to fish and perhaps also access rules of who can fish where are left for countries themselves to decide.

Deas also pointed to regional management where counties agree a long-term management plan involving TACs; agreed harvest control and technical rules “so there’s a broad even playing field”.

Deas also believes a relationship with Ireland must continue:

“Fisheries management is too important to leave to governments. We need to find a way in which ministers can receive advice from the industry – and that’s done in collaboration.”

He said past experience of the Advisory Councils has been “very positive when you get beyond the grandstanding to develop common solutions. Whatever happens, there will have to be some kind of re-alignment.

“For the UK to leave the Advisory Council is one thing, but losing half your waters as well just means there will have to be a re-think.”

Department view

Turning to Cecil Beamish, O’Leary asked what should be Ireland’s response; what preparations can be made and if there would be time to consult with the industry to feed into a response.

He said strength of the industry has been its ability to adapt to change.

“Every element of the fishing industry is always experiencing change so it’s not an industry that’s used to majority stability. It can cope with change. That said, this could be a significant change but it’s a change that we have some time to prepare for.

“What we want to do is to stimulate thinking in the industry and then inform as best we can on the issues. The fishing industry isn’t one homogenous block of activity it’s many different activities. So, issues that will interest people in Clogherhead or Kilmore Quay, or particular exporters, or the pelagic industry will differ, and ranking of the importance of these issues will also be different."

He suggested a “deep reflection” would be required to identify the main issues.

“We will be setting up structures whereby stakeholders will feed in their views so that we get a very well informed national position.”

He added that feedback to the industry would also be crucial.

“When we are then faced with negotiations and we know what’s being sought, we will have a better understanding of where other member States are coming from. Ireland will then have the ability to fight its corner and to pursue its interests in the negotiations as best we can.”


Locán Ó Cinnéide’ of the Irish Fish Processors and Exporters Association believes it will be very hard to predict what the impact will be due to a long period of uncertainty.

Speaking to Inshore Ireland, he said that from the processors point of new, prices achievable in the UK on the back of a fluctuating Sterling means it would be more attractive for fishermen to sell fish to Irish companies.

“But in the UK market, particularly for small prawns, Ireland would be a lot less competitive because prices will be in Euro terms much lower.”

From an overall trade and exports point of view, he believes uncertainty will be very destabilising.

Acknowledging a widely felt view: ‘To hell with Brexit; let’s sort our own problems and let’s support Brexit’, Ó Cinnéide however says Brexit will do nothing to solve Irish problems, “or even theirs” in fishing terms.

Reform at an EU level involving everybody is essential, he contends.

“We fish in their waters; we do a lot of fishing particularly for pelagic species in what are now UK waters. And some of our main prawn grounds are on the southeast coast (the Smalls) where we have a lot of activity.”

Asked if Brexit would mean Irish and Spanish boats would be frozen out of British waters and that they could set their own limits, Ó ÓCinnéide’ believes that’s what Britain thinks it means:

“But that’s not what it actually means”. They’re forgetting, for example, Spanish interests own a lot of the UK white fish industry; they’re also forgetting that the UK fleet fishes in other waters other than their own. I think people were sold a pup.”


Also speaking to Inshore Ireland, Francis O’Donnell of the Irish Fish Producers Organisation, agreed access will be the major problem – and also that people have invested in new vessels.

“A lot of contracts will be signed, probably based on a reasonably secure future in terms of fish stocks, which is a difficulty in itself. Brexit has thrown a completely new parameter into play that nobody really expected.

“I also think that larger States within the EU will apply political pressure to get a better deal. To some degree it’s like rechecking the stopwatch to see who can get out of the traps quick enough to get the best deal.

O’Donnell also noted close cooperation with the UK over ‘swaps’ in the Irish Sea for prawns, whiting, haddock and cod, especially in the run up the December Council.

“We all have to share the pain of those problems, and we won’t have the UK helping us so we’re going to be a member State with a very big fishery but with a very small voice.

Asked if he thought the landing obligation can survive, O’Donnell says it will be extremely difficult post Brexit.

“A lot of what happens over the next three to four years will come out of the Northwestern Waters Regional Advisory Council and the Pelagic Regional Advisory Council where the UK is a massive player in that process.

“Ireland and the UK should be saying to themselves there’ll be no slippage, we want business as usual, and to make it very, very clear to the Commission that if there’s any change to our fishing opportunities and joint access arrangements, there’s a good risk that the UK will pull out altogether.

“I think the UK could actually become the leader, instead of everybody following the European Commission in terms of fisheries management. Because the UK is such a big player, they might have to actually follow them now.” 

Assessment of the effects of Brexit on Irish and EU fisheries in the NE Atlantic

The authors of a ‘Research Note’ on the effects of Brexit on Irish and EU fisheries in the NE Atlantic, believe the impact will ultimately depend on the arrangements agreed between the EU and Britain in terms of fishing rights in EU waters.

But in a worse-case scenario, where the UK exclude all non-UK vessels from their EEZ, Ireland would lose out on €87m worth of landings (93,320 tonnes) based on 2014 catch data,’ say Daniel Norton and Stephen Hynes of the Socio-Economic Marine Research Unit (SEMRU).

Even if the UK were in turn excluded from the rest of the EU waters, their quota may be redistributed across the remaining EU Fleet. In 2013 Ireland had a 5% share in total landings the EU fleet (European Commission, 2016); if that proportion was maintained in terms of redistribution of the 114,997 tonnes of fish landed by the British fleet outside its own waters post-exclusion, it would mean an approximate 5,750 tonnes increase for Ireland which is only a fraction of the loss to the fleet from exclusion from UK waters.

The Research Note also looks at research by Teagasc where they estimate the impact on the food sector.

Even in the smallest impact scenario they estimate an annual 1.4% loss in Irish food exports. This would have an adverse impact on prices right across Irish fisheries, aquaculture an seafood processing.

The authors also note the likely higher degree of risk associated with Brexit for Irish food businesses with a substantial dependence on the UK market where the UK is Ireland’s second largest export destination after France.

Should the UK ultimately choose to leave the EU there will be a much greater need for a detailed sectoral analysis of the implications for the Irish fishing industry based on more accurate post-Brexit trade and fisheries policy arrangements.

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