Fahey faces test on fish stock plans

 

The European Commission is proposing the most draconian cuts of fish stocks in almost two decades when European fisheries ministers meet in Brussels tomorrow.

The Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources, Mr Fahey, faces one of his toughest tests since taking office at the all-night council, but Ireland and Britain plan to present a united front.

Some of the proposals "fly in the face of science", according to an Irish industry leader and former government official, Mr Sean O'Donoghue.

Some 6,000 jobs, affecting over 30,000 people dependent on the industry, are under threat, Mr Jason Whooley of the Irish South and West Fishermen's Organisation (IS&WFO) has warned. He has described the proposed cuts as "illogical". The EU plans to halve cod catches overall, and is seeking a 75 per cent reduction in hake. Mr O'Donoghue, successor to Mr Joey Murrin as chief executive of the Killybegs Fishermen's Organisation, said yesterday that it was hard to argue against reductions for those whitefish species but there was no basis for further whitefish cuts in stocks such as prawns.

A plan to impose quotas on unexploited deep-water species "has no scientific justification" and could place this Government's £70 million whitefish fleet renewal plan in "serious jeopardy", Mr O'Donoghue said.

The Commission's scientific committee had argued against the move, and the proposal was "arbitrary, ill-defined and half baked", Mr O'Donoghue said. He described it as an "underhand move by the French presidency" as France now saw Ireland's fleet as "a threat".

Mr O'Donoghue was architect of that fleet renewal programme with Bord Iascaigh Mhara, and was previously a principal Irish negotiator for the Department of the Marine and Natural Resources.

The new vessels built under the programme have been encouraged to target new species such as orange roughy, tusk, ling, blue ling and round-nosed grenadier - deep-water stocks which are not under pressure and therefore not under EU quota either.

The Minister for the Marine, Mr Fahey, has held a series of talks over the past week with his Northern counterpart, Ms Brid Rodgers, and with the British Fisheries Minister, Mr Elliott Morley.

Ireland and Britain will be arguing that cuts across the board are not the answer, and that priority should be attached to technical conservation measures and recovery programmes - similar to the Irish Sea cod recovery programme which the Minister has described as "a model of regional co-operation".