New EU fish policy practical and implementable, says Coveney

Discard ban and sustainable fishing cornerstones of new agreement

Victory has been claimed by all sides in agreeing the new Common Fisheries Policy, the 10-year plan for managing fish stocks in “blue Europe”.

A phased ban on the wasteful discarding of surplus fish at sea and the allocation of catch quotas to boats which adopt sustainable methods to conserve fish stocks are among highlights of the new policy signed off in the small hours yesterday by the European Parliament, European Commission and Irish EU presidency.

Retention of fish quotas as a public asset has also been copperfastened, in spite of an early push by some states to introduce individual transferable quotas which would effectively concentrate quotas in the hands of large companies.

Minister for the Marine Simon Coveney has expressed delight that a key priority of the presidency has been agreed, which is "practical, implementable and one which places sustainability firmly at its core.

"It is a policy which will provide for a vital, vibrant industry and healthy fishing stock long into the future," he said, singling out its main achievements as the ban on discards and management of stocks at maximum sustainable yield levels which will "fully respect scientific advice".

Vulnerable fish
A new regionalised decision-making approach will place fishermen "at the core of developing technical and conservation measures to protect juvenile fish and vulnerable fish species", he noted. A commitment to develop and strengthen biologically sensitive areas would protect the "Irish Box" grounds off the south and west coast, he said.

Removal of the “threat” to privatise quotas would also protect family-owned fishing vessels, he said.

The European Parliament's new co-decision powers, which allowed for its rubber-stamping of the final legal text, facilitated a critical intervention by Fianna Fáil MEP Pat "the Cope" Gallagher, according to the Federation of Irish Fishermen.

Mr Gallagher sought to ringfence the so-called Hague Preferences, a mechanism designed to adjust national fish quota allocations to take account of the needs of fishery dependent coastal communities in Ireland and Scotland.

The mechanism has come under repeated attack from other member states at annual fish quota negotiations and the federation says it is disappointed it has not been fully enshrined in the new policy.

However, its chairman Francis O’Donnell welcomed the fact that the measure has been not been dropped altogether.

Mr Coveney’s press statement yesterday said the Hague Preferences had been “protected”.

Environmental groups, including Greenpeace and the Ocean 2012 group funded by the US Pew charitable trusts, welcomed the deal, while cautioning that technical issues still needed to be resolved.

"This is a well-deserved success for commissioner for maritime affairs Maria Damanaki, and a testament to her vision," Ocean 2012 spokeswoman Uta Bellion said.