Call for Simon Coveney to ensure EU fish stocks plans are met

Preparations for next year’s EU quotas are already under way, says Birdwatch Ireland

Birdwatch Ireland has called on Minister for the Marine Simon Coveney to ensure Ireland plays its part in meeting an EU deadline on managing fish stocks sustainably.

Mr Coveney must "up his game" to ensure that EU commitments made at the 2002 Earth Summit in South Africa and in its revised Common Fisheries Policy are met, Birdwatch Ireland has said.

The non-governmental organisation has endorsed the findings of a report by the US-funded Pew Charitable Trusts on overfishing in the northeast Atlantic, which warns that policymakers must “maintain their focus” on those commitments.

Birdwatch Ireland’s head of policy Siobhán Egan said the reformed EU Common Fisheries Policy committed member states to ensuring the principle of “maximum sustainable yield” on managing fish stocks was achieved by 2015 where possible and by no later than 2020.

Maximum sustainable yield, measures in tonnes, is defined as the “largest yield or catch that can be taken from a specific fish stock over an indefinite period under constant environmental conditions”.

Setting quotas

“Yet we had a decision at last December’s fisheries council setting quotas where scientific opinion was overruled by political considerations,” she said.

“Work is already under way now on preparing for next year’s quotas, and we want to ensure that this principle is being adhered to by all EU member states, including Ireland.”

The Pew Trusts report, published in March, profiles "boom and bust" cycles in targeted fisheries in the northeast Atlantic area, ranging from the North Sea, where the first herring stock collapse occurred in 1955, to the Celtic Sea to the collapse of the blue whiting fishery off the west of Scotland and Ireland in 2011.

It quotes the European Commission’s own estimate that only 9 per cent of stocks are “likely to be still sustainable” by 2022 if the status quo persists.

Irish Fish Producers’ Organisation chief executive Francis O’Donnell said it was “easy for environmental organisations to point the finger at the European fishing industry and blame it for overfishing” but said that “context was important”.

Irish entitlement

It was “important to note” that Irish vessels were only entitled to 18 per cent of the fish caught in Ireland’s exclusive economic zone, he said.

Whitefish vessels would be subjected to a ban on discards from January, Mr O’Donnell said.

“We need to focus on avoidance, using technical control measures such as escape panels currently in place in the Celtic Sea and Irish Sea,” he said, and a phased approach would avoid a sudden economic shock for fishers.

“Many NGOs feel that this is not quick enough, but I argue that fishing vessels are businesses like any other, each vessel employing six to ten people . . . ”

In a related development, the Dáíl Committee of Public Accounts has called on the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine to draw up and implement a plan to develop vacant or underused properties to promote fishing and non-fishing activities in Ireland's six fishery harbour centres.

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins is the former western and marine correspondent of The Irish Times