Irish trawlers could lose access to UK waters under no-deal Brexit

A third of Irish catches are in UK waters, says department, amid warning of ‘severe impact’

A no-deal Brexit would have a “severe impact” on the Irish seafood sector with the “most immediate large-scale threat” being the loss of access to UK waters where Irish trawlers catch a third of their fish, the Department of the Marine has warned.

Exports of seafood from Ireland in 2017 totalled 314,000 tonnes worth €666 million.

The EU is the main market for these exports, but the UK market is also significant, and was worth €86 million in 2017 with a volume of 44,000 tonnes.

Speaking to the joint Oireachtas committee on agriculture, food and the marine on Tuesday, the department's assistant secretary general Dr Cecil Beamish said that if the UK leaves without a deal it will automatically leave the Common Fisheries Policy.


“The UK would be able to immediately close its waters to EU vessels,” he said. “This would mean that the status quo in which Irish vessels can freely fish in many areas of the UK Exclusive Economic Zone and vice versa, could be altered immediately.

“Whilst the position is not clear, the possibility that all EU vessels, and hence all Irish vessels, would be excluded from the UK zone in the event of a no-deal Brexit is certainly one possible scenario.”

The impact

On average, 34 per cent of Irish catches by volume and value come from inside UK waters.

Ireland catches a proportion of all its main commercial quotas in UK waters and, in some cases, such as with mackerel, more than 60 per cent of the quota.

Of the UK’s total landings, only 15 per cent by volume are caught outside its waters.

Dr Beamish said the “most immediate impact” of loss of access would be for whitefish and prawn fisheries.

Pelagic fisheries – mackerel in particular – would not be directly affected in 2019 as most of the available quota is caught in the early part of the year.

“A major knock-on effect of loss of access by Irish and other union vessels in the event of a disorderly Brexit is the likely increase in activity in the fishing ground in the waters around Ireland,” he continued.

“The concern here is an increase in pressure on fish stocks, in particular fishing grounds leading to an increase in fish mortality. This in turn could threaten the long-term sustainability of those stocks resulting in lower quotas.”

Dr Beamish said the EU had two proposals to deal with such a scenario. The first involves a loosening of the rules that govern the provision of financial aid to fisherman from the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund.

However, the loosening of the rules would be a “limited measure” that “would not address all of the issues” that would arise from loss of access to UK waters.

The second proposal from the EU Commission is about ensuring there is a legal basis to allow EU vessels to operate in the waters of a third country in the absence of a formal agreement between the EU and that third country.

That also provides for the possibility of current quota-swapping arrangements between EU member states and the UK to continue in the absence of an agreement.

However, this proposal does not mean there will be ongoing reciprocal access after March 29th, but merely provides the legal basis for it to happen, should the UK be willing to grant such reciprocal access in a no-deal scenario.

Colin Gleeson

Colin Gleeson

Colin Gleeson is an Irish Times reporter