18th October

Stakeholders must be central to a reformed Common Fisheries Policy

The EU Commission decision in April to adopt a Green Paper on the reform of the Common Fisheries Policy has been welcomed, if cautiously, by the Federation of Irish Fishermen.

Proceedings from the organisation’s review seminar in October notes starkly: ‘Ireland had put consideratble effort into previous CFP reviews, but the the outcome never met expectations which led FIF to think a new approach was needed when structuring.'

5.4 interview SOD

Sean O'Donoghue, CEO of the Killybegs Fishermen's Organisation and FiF's current chairman

A key player representing Ireland in the complex intra-community horse-trading now well underway is Sean O’Donoghue, CEO of the Killybegs Fishermens Organisation and FIF’s current chairman.

A veteran of fisheries management who worked in the Department of the Marine and for BIM for over twenty years before taking over the KFO helm in 2000, few would match his grasp of the complexities of the CFP reform discussions.

O’Donoghue is also instrumental in other issues such technical conservation measures, fleet restructuring, quota management, annual TAC and quota negotiations amongst other Common Fisheries Policy issues. He is also chairman of the European Association of Producer Organisations; executive committee member on three Regional Advisory Councils and is chairman of Working Group 2 in the Pelagic RAC. O’Donoghue also sits on the EU Commission’s Advisory Committee on Fisheries and Aquaculture, and is a member of the Seafood Strategy Implementation Group.

Speaking to Inshore Ireland, O’Donoghue teased out the challenges faced by the industry today as well as some of the key issues he hopes will be addressed in the CFP review.

What are the flaws in the Common Fisheries Policy?

From the FIF perspective the biggest flaw is the centralised approach – there’s no bottom-up approach. Every decision from the minutiae to the macro has been decided at the Fisheries Council up to now, and that has been a huge problem. At our own national level we have a huge problem with stock management, and the percentage share of quotas we have ended up with since 1983.

What has the CFP achieved?

For the most part it has achieved very little of what it set out to achieve. One results of 2002 CFP however was the establishment of Regional Advisory Councils which overall are a success.

What changes does the FIF propose to reform the CFP?

The FIF has gone through an exhaustive exercise in terms of looking at the current CFP and looking at the changes. That exercise is almost completed. But to put it in broad terms, we obviously have five or six major items in relation to the Irish situation, which we believe should be fundamentally changed.

First of all stakeholders must be directly involved in the decision-making process. We must get rid of the centralised approach to decision-making, and it must be based either on a decentralised or regional approach to fisheries.

We also have a big problem with relative stability or the percentage share of the quotas we have in our own waters. We would see this in particular regarding certain white fish stocks. This can be changed via the Hague Preference which gave Ireland additional quota back in 1976. We feel that this must now be fully enshrined into the CFP – to recognise our coastal peripheral nature and the dependence of our coastal regions in relation to that.

Another area we will be looking at – and this huge issue for us – is the scientific advice and the provision of scientific advice. There needs to be a radical change in the structure, and in the methodology to include fishermen’s experience in the scientific assessments. We must achieve a matching of minds between the scientists and the stakeholders.

Where does the FIF stand on discarding and high grading?

The key issue here is that we need to approach fisheries management by looking at it in the long-term. If we do then we feel that we can eliminate a lot of these aspects. Discarding, for example, is a highly complex issue to actually resolve. It is very easy to have the sound-bite of ‘ban all discards’ not knowing what the actual consequences of this are.

I think through a range of technical measures - closed areas, real time closures - we can actually reduce discards to an absolute minimum. This would be our objective. Obviously, the market situation and the price for fish is a huge driver or incentive for fishermen. So, if we can get a decent price for fish it eliminates people trying to catch more to try and achieve the same price.

Will fishermen and scientists ever see eye-to-eye on the meaning of sustainability?

That isn’t really the issue. We do see eye-to-eye on what sustainability is. How you actually achieve it is where the issue really arises. We have a big difficulty for certain stocks as we believe the scientific advice is just plain wrong for these stocks. And I’d point to mackerel being one of those which we have now resolved finally.

As stakeholders we continuously argued that the scientific advice wasn’t reflecting the reality on the ground. Now, we have reached a consensus in relation to that; however we still have a number of stocks - particularly herring here in the northwest and Celtic Sea cod being another – that we fundamentally disagree on with the scientists. But having said that, we do agree on about twenty or thirty other stocks.

Does the FIF foresee a resolution to the ongoing problems with the EU/Norway fisheries negotiations?

We do see a resolution, particularly in relation to mackerel. Having said that however, we are extremely annoyed and feel very aggrieved that Iceland, Norway and the Faroe Islands have declared quantities of mackerel for themselves in 2009 which were not agreed to in the Coastal States Agreement (between the EU, Faroe Islands and Norway]. These are far above what the scientists are advising.

As a consequence of such illegal activity it is now quite likely that we will have a five to ten per cent reduction in the mackerel TAC for next year. If such irresponsible behaviour wasn’t going on we would be looking at probably a five per cent increase.

McCarthy advocates the abolition of BIM and its functions to be absorbed into a government department. What is the FIF view on this?

We are totally against the abolition of BIM. And certainly, moving the functions - particularly into a government department - is certainly a death knell for a development agency. And in no way whatsoever could we support such a move.

When you analyse the savings of €7.3m being suggested by McCarthy, €6.8m is actually monies that would be going to the industry in terms of development. So in actual fact, by abolishing BIM you are really only saving €500,00. We are quite convinced that BIM can easily come up with the required savings identified in the McCarthy report without abolishing it. We think this is merely a financial exercise.

Does the FIF continue to support the core recommendations of the Cawley report?

In simple terms yes. The core findings haven’t changed but the implementation and the financial resources now available have changed. We have to match the reality of the present day situation to what are the core principles of Cawley which have to be redefined and refocussed.

We have already begun that process in a certain way in the Implementation Group in that we have identified the areas, which given our current economic climate, we can progress in a manner and those that will have to wait for a further day.

Does the FIF believe that Cawley will be implemented fully, and if so when?

Without doubt not all of the recommendations will be implemented because the financial resources are not currently there. There are a number of big issues such as quota management and licensing policy that still haven’t come to fruition and we are hopeful progress can be made on these next year.

But it does require cutting our cloth to our measure.So, some of the tables that are in the Cawley report will have to be changed to match the reality of the financial situation we are in.

Is the current crisis in commercial fishing impacting on Killybegs?

Killybegs is the largest fishing port in Ireland, accounting for approximately sixty per cent of all landings of mostly mackerel, herring, scad, horse-mackerel and blue whiting. We suffered some sever set-backs on pelagic species in the early nineties, as a result of which we lost close to one thousand jobs.

We are now at the stage where we are down to the core, and if the industry declines any further we could see its total demise. We are very hopeful however that with correct management centred on stock sustainability, coupled with achieving Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification this year for the mackerel fishery – and provided Iceland, Norway and Faeroes are prevented from fishing illegally – then we have a sustainable future which could generate additional jobs in Killybegs.

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