Irish fishermen ‘face wipe-out’ unless fishing rules changed

Analysis: Ireland should use Brexit as basis to to renegotiate EU fish policy, industry says

Fishing boats are seen in Cobh harbour in Co Cork. Fishermen’s representatives have called for a review of EU fishing rules. Photograph: Getty

Fishing boats are seen in Cobh harbour in Co Cork. Fishermen’s representatives have called for a review of EU fishing rules. Photograph: Getty

 

Ireland’s fishing industry has breathed a sigh of relief, after Minister for Marine Michael Creed and his negotiating team in Brussels secured an overall six per cent increase for 2017 on last year’s share of quotas.

The outlook had been “dire”, as one representative said, with an initial 68 per cent cut in cod and nine per cent cut in prawns averted.

It was Creed’s first “red-eye” council, where EU fisheries ministers use sleep deprivation as a tactic to haggle for quotas for their fleets.

However, sleep may be in even shorter supply at such negotiations in years to come if Britain leaves the EU.

Oblivious to Brexit, fish know no boundaries, with some 40 different stocks moving between these two islands.

Creed acknowledged on RTÉ Radio’s Morning Ireland on Wednesday that British withdrawal would have a serious impact on the Irish fishing industry - “38 per cent of volume and 36 per cent of value of Irish fishing is in British territorial waters”, he said.

If Britain “attempts to establish a wall around their territorial waters”, this would pose “a significant challenge” he said.

“It would mean the entire fishing network will be displaced to a smaller area,” he said - as in Irish waters, already under severe pressure from Spanish, French and Dutch fleets.

“We will raise questions with the Commission about Ireland’s unique position,” he added, but industry organisations don’t believe the Government has given that “position” sufficient punch.

With 22 per cent of all EU waters off Irish coast, and just two per cent of EU fleet capacity to catch it, Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation chief executive Sean O’Donoghue has stressed the urgency of taking a strong stand.

The Irish South and West Fish Producers Organisation, whose members have felt the impact for years of Spanish and French fleets, says Ireland should use Brexit to renegotiate the entire Common Fisheries Policy, or face a “wipe-out”.

There are already ominous rumblings about the near future. Britain did not support Ireland at the talks in defending the “Hague Preferences”, which recognise the particular case of coastal communities in allocating quotas.

Also, British Secretary of State James Brokenshire recently reasserted London’s claim over Lough Foyle in response to a parliamentary question in the House of Commons last month. After the Belfast Agreement peace deal, a cross-border body known as the Loughs Agency took responsibility for the Foyle, which was a key strategic naval base during the second world war.

The Department of Foreign Affairs immediately rejected Mr Brokenshire’s assertion that “the whole of Lough Foyle is within the UK.”

A recent Supreme Court decision held that Northern Ireland fishing vessels could not legally fish or harvest mussel seed in the Republic’s territorial waters - under an arrangement known as “voisinage”.

However, it is understood that the Government wants to introduce legislation which would effectively reverse the Supreme Court ruling. At a recent seafood conference hosted by Bord Iascaigh Mhara, British National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations (NFFO) chief executive Barrie Deas forecast three possible scenarios in relation to Brexit.

The first was unilateral action by Britain to set its own quotas and control its own waters, the second involved bilateral and trilateral negotiations on shared stocks with coastal states, including Ireland and Norway.

The third was a move to a regional management structure by coastal states, a type of “super-regional advisory council”, expanding on the regional councils established as part of the revised Common Fisheries Policy, he said.

This latter scenario could benefit all EU coastal states, he suggested. The rights of coastal states to manage their own stocks - a type of regional management recognised in the most recent EU fish policy - is likely to gain greater currency as those stocks come under event greater pressure.

World demand for seafood is only going up, and the Irish industry is worth 1 billion euro in annual landings. However, foreign landings, transhipped back to Spain with no added value, are also on the increase here.

In an interview with The Irish Times in 1996, then EU fisheries commissioner Emma Bonino gave the most honest description of the community’s vision for “fewer, larger vessels”, spending longer periods of time at sea - such as the Dutch factory ships filmed in Irish waters for the recently released documentary Atlantic (italicss) directed by Risteard Ó Dómhnaill. This would fulfil the European Commission’s aim of providing cheaper fish for the consumer, but at the expense of coastal communities depending on the activity.

Birdwatch Ireland’s representative Sinéad Cummins, who was in Brussels for the fish talks, has urged EU ministers to think of the long term future of communities on the coastline by sticking to scientific advice - and allowing greater public access to the late night deliberations behind firmly closed doors.

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