Brexit: UK proposal on fish stocks would undermine Irish fishing, warns sector

Stripping out pelagics such as mackerel from talks ‘totally unacceptable’ to Irish industry

The Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation said it would be ‘totally unacceptable’ if the UK was proposing to discuss EU access to pelagic stocks in British waters in ongoing annual negotiations. File photograph: Getty

The Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation said it would be ‘totally unacceptable’ if the UK was proposing to discuss EU access to pelagic stocks in British waters in ongoing annual negotiations. File photograph: Getty

 

The UK proposal to strip pelagic fish stocks such as mackerel out of talks on a trade deal with the EU could undermine the viability of Irish fishing, representatives of the industry have said.

Fishing is one of three areas that has stalled talks between the EU and UK on a trade deal.

British negotiators have suggested taking pelagic species, including blue whiting and Atlanto-Scandia herring, out of the negotiations , to be dealt with in annual talks with Russia, Norway, the Faroes, Iceland and Greenland through the North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission.

Sean O’Donoghue, chief executive of the Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation, said it would be “totally unacceptable” if the UK was proposing to discuss EU access to pelagic stocks in British waters in ongoing annual negotiations.

This would mean Irish and EU fleets securing a short-term reprieve of a year before being “at the mercy” of the UK in future bilateral talks while losing the leverage of linking a deal on fishing to other trade and economic areas.

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The UK would also be “at liberty” to increase its share of stocks in the absence of an agreement among the independent coastal states who negotiate fish catches.

“The Irish fleet is 60 per cent dependent on access to UK waters for mackerel. The viability of the pelagic industry in Killybegs is dependent on access to UK waters,” said Mr O’Donoghue.

Killybegs, one of the country’s largest fishing ports, is more than 82 per cent dependent on the seafood sector.

Donegal fisherman Michael Cavanagh, owner of the Father McKee trawler out of Greencastle, rejected the British proposal as a “divide and conquer” approach to the negotiations.

Mr Cavanagh said mackerel were caught at their most valuable early in the year in British waters and that if Irish trawlers caught mackerel in Irish waters they would be of lower value.

“What it would mean is that we are going to have a very different product. It will affect our bottom line,” he said.

The link between all fishing, including prawns, whitefish and pelagic stocks, and other areas of trade must be maintained in negotiations in order to leverage the best deal, he said.

“It should be all or nothing.”

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