Creed takes on Donegal supertrawler fleet over multimillion euro mackerel fishery

Minister for the Marine intends to legislate for one-island inshore fishing rights

Michael Creed: committed to legislation allowing northern and southern fishing vessels reciprocal fishing rights within the island’s territorial waters. Photograph: Alan Betson

Michael Creed: committed to legislation allowing northern and southern fishing vessels reciprocal fishing rights within the island’s territorial waters. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

Minister for the Marine Michael Creed faces a clash with the influential Donegal supertrawler fleet following his decision to review the share-out of the lucrative mackerel fishery.

Mr Creed has also said he was committed to legislation allowing northern and southern fishing vessels reciprocal fishing rights within the island’s territorial waters, in spite of opposition within the industry.

He has also warned of a “very real problem” if Westminster “puts a ring around its territorial waters” when it leaves the EU, given that 38 per cent of Irish catches are in British waters.

The Cork North-West TD secured a 6 per cent overall increase in Irish fish quotas for this year in Brussels last month, including an additional mackerel allocation valued at about €10 million.

Mackerel is Ireland’s most important commercial fishery, with a value of €64 million last year for the Irish fleet, according to Bord Iascaigh Mhara.

Mr Creed conceded to a request from the Irish South and West Fishermen’s Organisation to review the share-out of an additional quota.

The move has been criticised by the Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation, representing the Donegal-based fleet that pioneered the hunt for the valuable migratory stock –and which has held up to 87 per cent of the annual share-out.

Track record

It said its members had invested heavily to create a track record, and Mr Creed’s review was “fundamentally flawed” and in “direct contravention” of a ministerial policy decision of 2009, revised and confirmed in 2011.

The Minister’s department said every group was entitled to submit views to the public consultation, which closes on February 28th.

The legislation Mr Creed is planning to allow for reciprocal fishing rights north and south of the Border relates to the inshore fleet, and copperfastens an informal “voisinage” agreement between Ireland and Britain from the mid-1960s.

It was concluded when Ireland had a constitutional claim to the whole island of Ireland, but was never given formal legal status. It was introduced to ease tensions over access to herring, and was latterly used to manage a cross-Border mussel fishery from the 1990s.

However, four mussel fishermen from the Republic who claim the arrangement was abused by northern-registered vessels took legal action that led to a Supreme Court ruling in their favour. The Irish Fish Producer’s Organisation (IFPO) says Mr Creed’s legislation could result in depletion of a valuable inshore marine resource south of the border.

The recent assertion by British secretary of state James Brokenshire that “the whole of Lough Foyle is within the UK” is a “separate issue” which the Department of Foreign Affairs had very quickly rejected, Mr Creed said.

“Voisinage is about fishing effort, whereas the Foyle is about jurisdiction,”he said.

Mr Creed said “we are deeply engaged” with the various stakeholders on Brexit, and Taoiseach Enda Kenny would be meeting with the fishing industry – and had met with his Spanish counterpart last week as part of an effort to “navigate the best possible outcome”.

“We have had a 40 per cent growth trajectory in Irish food exports since 2010 at the height of the crash, and the industry has been a stellar performer,”he said, but he believed Brexit highlighted the dangers of “overdependence on one market as in Britain”.

Purchasing power

Rising oil prices would give purchasing power and offer more opportunity in north Africa and the Middle East, while exports of Irish food to China had risen by 35 per cent in 2016, he said.

The opening of the Egyptian market to processed Irish beef had not compromised the Government’s efforts to secure the release of Ibrahim Halawa, the 21-year-old Dublin man who has been in prison awaiting trial for 3½ years,he said.

“There is no monopoly on concern for Ibrahim Halawa, and my Oireachtas colleagues visited him in Egypt last week,” he said. “But I don’t think we should be putting preconditions. It is by engagement rather than disengagement that we can resolve these issues.”

Mr Creed said the Government’s investment in fishery harbour developments was as much about encouraging non-Irish as Irish landings which could offer coastal employment.

“We are not going to get a Google, Yahoo or Dell into Castletownbere or Killybegs,”he said.