Ireland urged to push for end to overfishing in EU waters

Annual negotiations on agreeing quotas and allowable catches are continuing in Brussels

Ireland must push for an end to overfishing in EU waters and uphold agreed measures to ensure more sustainable practices, according to the Irish Wildlife Trust.

“There is no fishing in a dead ocean – the approach of trying to balance environmental protection with economic exploitation has led us to the crisis we are in with collapsing ocean ecosystems,” warned IWT campaign officer Pádraic Fogarty

The EU pledged to end overfishing by 2020 as part of changes to the common fisheries policy agreed in 2013, but there was a risk this would not be realised, he added.

The annual negotiations on agreeing quotas and totally allowable catches are continuing in Brussels with Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Michael Creed representing Ireland.


Under those changes, by next year the setting of fishing quotas was to have been governed by scientific advice on the maximum sustainable yield, and the quotas set for several years at a time in advance.

Mr Fogarty said the meeting was the first at EU level since the Dáil declared “a biodiversity and climate emergency” and the last meeting before the legally-binding deadline of 2020 to end all overfishing. “To-date, with less than half of fish populations hunted at sustainable limits in Irish waters, there remains a challenge ahead if this target is to be met,” he added.

Last week, the European Commission unveiled its "green new deal" which explicitly includes protection of oceans and biodiversity, he noted. "At a very minimum the level of ambition must be set at adhering to existing legislation. Unfortunately, with scientists advising that a number of catch limits be set at zero, this means closing certain fisheries."

The Minister has said it was a “twin challenge” to protect the fishing industry while simultaneously staying within sustainable limits. A spokesman indicated he would comment further at the conclusion of the talks.

The IWT believed fishing could only take place within the limits that nature provides, Mr Fogarty said. “This will mean transforming how the industry operates, including phasing out bottom trawling, designating large and effective ‘marine protected areas’ and strictly managing all fishing activities so that livelihoods and marine life can be protected.”

Fish populations have shown signs of recovery in some areas but key stocks including cod, seabass, hake and herring are still overfished, scientists say.

"What we're seeing here is a very similar dynamic to previous years," said Andrew Clayton, project director at the Pew Trusts. "Despite the legal deadline and the independent scientific advisers publishing their advice months ago, heavily lobbied member-state delegations seem to be haggling for higher quotas, using new 'science' and socioeconomic justifications to inflate catch limits in the short-term."

Rebecca Hubbard, a programme director at Our Fish campaign group, said: "Ministers are facing the consequences of delaying action to end overfishing in favour of short-term industry profits... [THEY]can still turn things around – they can end overfishing by setting quotas within scientific limits."

Quotas for North Sea cod were halved at a meeting last week after warnings that stocks had plunged. The European Commission had argued for a deeper cut but the fishing industry and ministers would not agree.

A big issue at the talks will be the impact of the “discard ban”, which is meant to stop the wasteful practice of fishers throwing away healthy, edible fish at sea because they exceed their quota. Evidence suggests many are ignoring the ban.

Mr Creed met the new EU fisheries commissioner Virginijus Sinkevicius on Tuesday to discuss Brexit and the potential impacts of Brexit on the Irish and wider EU fishing fleets. "We had an excellent discussion on the vital importance of ensuring the fisheries negotiations [WITH THE UK]are inextricably linked with the wider future relationship negotiations," he added.

The outcome of this year’s negotiations are expected early on Wednesday.

- Additional reporting: Guardian

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times