18th October

Rhetoric or real? The price of Ireland’s entry to the EU

The appointment of Dr Noel Crawley to oversee a stakeholder consultation process that will feed into Ireland’s submission to the Green Paper on the Common Fisheries Policy marks the first step in a lengthy debate that will culminate in 2013.

At a Council of Ministers meeting, Brendan Smith TD, Minister at the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, told his European colleagues that Irish fishermen remained “aggrieved” at the share of fish stocks Ireland received when the first CFP was put in place.

“There will need to be recognition of this reality as the background to this reform process,” he said.


In an effort to clarify the economic cost of EU membership for the Irish fishing industry, Inshore Ireland invited the EU Commission Representation in Ireland to enter the debate.

The following material is based on data collected (1950-2004) by the Sea Around Us project – a collaboration between the University of British Columbia (Canada) and the Pew Charitable Trusts, Philadelphia, USA. The data is available at http://www.seaaroundus.org/

The value of fish taken out of Irish waters from 1950-2004 is approximately €12bn at current exchange rates. Of that, €3.5 billion worth approximately was taken before Ireland joined the EU and the remaining €8.5bn between 1974 and 2004. Of the €12bn, Irish boats have taken approximately 25% or €3bn. The total value of the catch has risen since Ireland joined the EU and Ireland has been amongst the prime beneficiaries from the increased catch (see Fig 1)

The volume of fish caught in the Irish EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone) has risen from 160,000t in 1954 to 530,000t in 2004. A sharp decline was evident between 1977 and 1979 when volume nearly halved to around 202,000t, while catches peaked in 1988 at 706,000t.

“Those who claim that Irish waters have been plundered by foreign fishing fleets also say these waters are the richest in the EU, but the figures don’t support that argument,” a spokesperson for the European Commission in Dublin told Inshore Ireland.

“Just over 8% of fish caught in EU waters between 2000 and 2004 were caught within the Irish Exclusive Economic Zone. That percentage is rising, but is nowhere near the 40% often claimed”, the spokesperson added. (Fig 2)

In 2004, 33% of all fish caught in EU waters came from within the UK’s exclusive zone, followed by Denmark, which includes Greenland and the Faroe Islands at 21%. Ireland is ranked third at 8.4%, with France, Spain, and Swedish waters accounting for 5% each. (Fig 3)

Lack of facts
Claims that since joining the EU, Irish fishermen have been pushed off their own waters are also not borne out by the facts, according to the spokesperson.

“In truth, Irish boats have been taking an increasing share of the fish caught in Irish waters. And this share increased significantly from 9.8% in the 1960s to 23.7% in the 1980s and to more than 25.7% between 2000 and 2004.”

On the basis of this data, large fishing fleets such as the Spanish and Danish have taken most of their fish from within their own national waters - 80% and 70% respectively (2004).

“Historically, the Irish share of fishing in its own waters is comparable to that of the UK and the Netherlands, and is higher than that of Germany,” the spokesperson added. (Fig 4)

Rising share
Looking outside of Irish waters, the share of fish caught by Irish boats as a percentage of all fish caught in EU waters is rising – from less than 1% in the 1960s to a peak of over 5% in the late 1990s and falling to 4% by 2004. This ranks Ireland ninth in the EU.

With an eye on the next CFP, the European Commission says that overfishing has been the great threat to industry with eighty percent of fish stocks in European waters being overfished.

According to the spokesperson, there is also the “deep-rooted problem of fleet overcapacity”. While a few EU fleets are profitable with no public support, “most are either running losses or returning low profit.

Overfishing does not just threaten the sustainability of fish stocks it also drives down the industry's profits.”

Between 2007 and 2013, the EU has earmarked €42.5m to support the Irish fishing industry through the European Fisheries Fund (EFF) and has already invested €100m across the Union in research into aquaculture.

“Aquaculture is THE growth area of the future and support for this research must continue” the EU spokesperson said.

Key principles to CFP sought by Ireland

  • innovative policies to simplify and reduce the administrative burden
  • strengthening of the industry’s capacity to maximise employment in coastal communities dependant on fishing
  • opposition to the opening up the 12 mile coastal zone and case for to have this increased
  • retention of national quotas remaining in public ownership and managed by member states
  • greater stakeholder involvement in decision-making and simplification of the decision making process
  • integration of aquaculture policy into the mainstream CFP

The state of Irish fishing
[EU Commission: Facts and Figures on the CFP, 2008]

Approximately 11,000 people currently work in the Irish fishing industry. The job numbers have been stable since 1997:

  • 5,500 in fishing
  • 3,500 in fish processing
  • 2,000 in fish farms and aquaculture

There are approximately 2,000 vessels in the Irish fishing fleet, rising from 1,800 in 1997 to 1,955 in 2008; over the same period, the EU fishing fleet declined by about 20%. Ireland currently has the sixth largest fishing fleet in the EU.

In 2006, Irish fishermen landed 210,670t of fish. In the same year, fish farms and other aquaculture projects produced 60,050t of fish and shellfish. On the basis of these figures, Ireland is the ninth most important fishing nation in the EU, having a total value of exports of approximately €360m per annum.

The EU and Irish fishing
Between 2000 and 2006, direct EU aid to the Irish fishing sector was €65.5m; a further €17m was provided through the Exchequer. EU aid was roughly €6,000 per annum for every person working in the industry. Coastal areas receive further support from the EU through the European Social Fund; the European Regional Development Fund and the European Agricultural Fund for Regional Development.

Around 850 projects were supported by the EU during this time – mainly for decommissioning or modernising fishing vessels and to develop aquaculture.

Some 78% of Ireland's fish exports go to the EU without tariffs of any sort. EU countries produce only 10% of the fish and shellfish they consume, so the potential for export growth exists.

In April the European Commission launched a broad consultation on the future of European fishing. Stakeholder and general views welcome by 31 December 2009 at

http://ec.europa.eu/fisheries/reform/index_en.htm The results of the consultation will feed into the proposals that the Commission will make for the reform of the CFP planned to come into force by 1 January 2013.

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