Ireland 'suffered' over fisheries policy

Sat, Sep 24, 2011, 01:00

EU MARITIME affairs commissioner Maria Damanaki has acknowledged that the Republic has suffered under the controversial EU Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).

However, she has promised a “level playing field” during the current review of the policy, which has to be in place by 2013.

The Republic has potential for what she calls “blue growth” through development of offshore aquaculture, she said in an interview in Galway yesterday.

The State has the third-largest sea area and the largest maritime area to land mass ratio in the EU, but derives only 1 per cent of gross domestic product from the maritime economy, according to recent figures.

Ms Damanaki said she regarded this State as being a “big country” in the fisheries sector, with some of the richest fishing grounds, attracting other EU fleets because Irish waters were now “common European waters” with “common European stocks”.

“I can understand some concerns [in Ireland] are informed by bad experience,” she said, of Ireland’s opposition to aspects of proposed new CFP reforms.

“Last year, we had to pursue Spain over overfishing of stocks, and I can understand there have been bad practices,” she said.

“And I can understand the Government and people here have not had a good experience of the common stocks, and how they are managed, but I would like to guarantee them that it will be a level playing field, really,” she said.

Maritime planning and protection of “small-scale fisheries” are cornerstones of the proposed new EU fisheries policy, the Greek EU commissioner said.

However, she denied that aspects of the new policy would make Ireland’s situation worse, due to a planned introduction of transferable quota concessions, and has criticised “scaremongering” on the issue.

She could not comment on whether her remarks were directed at Minister for the Marine Simon Coveney, who is vehemently opposed to the plan, as are a number of stakeholder groups. They fear it will result in big international conglomerates buying up Irish fishing rights.

Denmark and countries like the US, New Zealand and Australia had shown that this system could work, where governments awarded rights to fish for a period of time, but with ownership retained by the state.

“We can avoid referring the rights to banks, to big companies,” she said, and the system also provided a means to compensate people who wished to quit fishing.

The EU had paid over €906 million between 2000 and 2006 to decommission vessels, but the taxpayer could no longer fund this, she said.

“A lot of member states are pushing not only for transferability of concessions inside the countries, but they want an EU transferable system,” she said.

“This [EU-wide system] is out of the question. And I’ve made it absolutely clear we are not discussing this, as this would disturb relative stability – and am not going to open up a Pandora’s box.” However, she and her officials were “studying” Ireland’s case for ensuring permanent treaty protection for the so-called “Hague Preferences”, which guarantee a certain amount of quota in key stocks to Ireland and Britain, as states with substantial coastlines.

Other member states such as Spain have been lobbying for years to have these concessions dropped.

Ms Damanaki said that Ireland could “do better” in nurturing aquaculture development – so helping to reduce rising seafood imports to Europe.

“I think there is really great potential here . . . to develop aquaculture offshore,” she said. “That’s why we need some good research and innovation projects.”

She was working with EU commissioner for research, innovation and science Máire Geoghegan-Quinn to achieve this.

Ms Damanaki said that her plan to ban fish discards could incorporate a programme to provide people on lower incomes with fish not going to market.

In some cases, discards in the EU amounted to up to 50 to 60 per cent of catch, she said.