Conservation area to replace Irish Box


European Union fisheries ministers have agreed to replace the Irish Box, a 50-mile, protected fishing zone around the Irish coast, with a conservation area one-third of the size, writes Denis Staunton in Luxembourg

Ireland and Spain voted against the proposal but the Minister for the Marine, Mr Ahern and Irish fishing organisations hailed the outcome as a success.

Mr Ahern, who described his No vote as "pure tactics", said that the deal ensured that the level of fishing in Irish waters would not increase until at least 2008.

"In effect, we have now secured a new Irish Conservation Box based on scientific evidence that we ourselves produced over the last number of months to justify special treatment in this area because of juvenile fish. It's a very substantial area, covering part of the old box and indeed extending further South than the original box," he said.

The Irish Box was created to protect fish stocks in Irish waters when Spain and Portugal joined the EU in 1985. Both countries were banned from fishing in the zone until 1996, when a maximum of 40 Spanish trawlers was allowed to fish there.

Spain complained that the restriction represented discrimination and the commission moved last year to abolish the Irish Box altogether. Mr Ahern said yesterday that scientific evidence presented by the Government this year persuaded the commission and other member-states that a conservation area was needed.

"We did claw this back. For the first couple of months this year, it looked very grim for us in that we were getting no sense from the commission officials that they saw any justification for a new area and they were very worried by the claim of discrimination from Spain. But once we produced the evidence which we did with our experts in Ireland, with the Marine Institute, with the officials in my Department, that gave the commission an opportunity to dedicate a special area of conservation," he said.

The new area stretches a little further south than the Irish Box but excluding the western, north-western, eastern and south-eastern waters. All fishing vessels more than 10 metres long will have to report each time they enter and exit the zone, recording their catch every two hours.

Mr Seán O'Donoghue, chief executive of the Killybegs Fishermen's Organisation, welcomed the deal last night.

"It's a reasonably good day for Ireland. Our two priorities coming out here were the fishing effort and the catch reporting and we've been assured that both of those have been delivered. So we as an industry can't very well say this is a bad deal if our two major issues have been resolved," he said.

Mr Jason Whooley, manager of the Irish South and West Fish Producers' Organisation, praised Mr Ahern and his officials for their conduct of the negotiations.

Spain's fisheries minister, Mr Miguel Arias Canete, expressed disappointment at the outcome, adding that Madrid would fight in the courts for full access to Irish waters.