Environmental groups criticise Coveney stance at EU fish talks

‘Dramatic’ cuts not backed up by ‘dramatic science’, says Minister for Marine

Minister for the Marine Simon Coveney said the cuts in the white fish quotas were ‘unacceptable’. Photograph: Alan Betson /The Irish Times

Minister for the Marine Simon Coveney said the cuts in the white fish quotas were ‘unacceptable’. Photograph: Alan Betson /The Irish Times

 

Environmental groups have criticised Minister for Marine Simon Coveney for his opposition to many cuts proposed by the European Commission as part of next year’s whitefish quotas.

Mr Coveney, who is leading Ireland’s negotiating team at this week’sEU fisheries council, has said that the proposed cuts are “unacceptable”.

Briefing reporters before the council, he pledged to resist what amounts to an overall 20 per cent cut to whitefish and prawn quotas for 2015.

If agreed, they could lead to 600 direct and indirect job losses with an annual loss of €78 million, the Federation of Irish Fishermen (FIF) has warned.

The European Commission is proposing quota reductions of 64 per cent for cod, 41 per cent for haddock, 20 per cent for pollock, skate and ray, 14 per cent for whiting and prawns, 12 per cent for monkfish and four per cent for hake.

However, Ireland’s most lucrative fishery, mackerel, is set to receive an 89,000 tonne allocation next year.

The Environmental Pillar, representing 28 Irish environmental groups, has called on Mr Coveney to “do everything in his power to uphold scientific advice for the benefit of the marine environment and the fishermen working in coastal communities”.

“Familiar species like cod, plaice and haddock all require a dramatic reduction in landings in 2015 in order to slow the decline of their populations,”the group said in a statement.

“The reductions in the total allowable catches (TACs) for many well-known species in 2015 are being proposed in an effort to restore sustainability to the fisheries of the northeast Atlantic.”

The pillar’s marine group convenor Dr Edward Fahy, a former Marine Institute scientist, said that “despite repeated promises of reform by the Commission and Irish ministers for fisheries, there is no sign of a respite from continuing destruction of this national resource”.

Birdwatch Ireland head of policy Siobhán Egan noted that EU fisheries ministers were bound under the new Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) to adhere to maximum sustainable yield (MSY ) – ending overfishing of vulnerable stocks - by 2015.

The MSY principle applies unless evidence could be presented that it seriously jeopardises the social and economic sustainability of fleets.

“More than 30 years of legislated overfishing, aggravated by the wasteful practice of discarding, has left numerous fish stocks and communities devastated,”she said in a statement.

Mr Coveney says Ireland is arguing for a three per cent increase in prawn quotas, compared to the 14 per cent cut proposed, and said that Ireland “had the science to back up our argument”.

“There’s no reason why we could not, should not, introduce MSY over a phased period”, Mr Coveney said, adding that this could be a two- to three-year period.

“At the moment we have an industry that’s up for this reform, as long as we’re reasonable in terms of how it’s implemented and the timetable for that,” Mr Coveney said.

“I think that if we can do that, the new CFP will dramatically transform fishing for the better,” he said, but this could only be achieved through a “buy-in” from the industry.

This “buy-in” would be jeopardised by “dramatic cuts in quota” in the first year of the new CFP, he said, for which there was no “dramatic science” to justify it.

Environmental organisations have also expressed concern about what they have described as an attempt dilution by the European Parliament of the ban on discarding fish - the first phase of which, for pelagic (mackerel/herring) boats, is due to come into force on January 1st. (2015).

FIF chairman Sean O’Donoghue says that the situation is a “legal mess”, as the legislation which dictates that fishermen dump over-quota or undersized fish is still in place.

“There is no agreement between the EU Council and Parliament on a new omnibus regulation on landing obligations,” he said. “So the ban cannot be enforced. If this isn’t worked out properly, there will be total chaos when it comes to apply to the whitefish fleet in 2016,”he said.

Ireland has long pioneered technical conservation measures to reduce catches of unwanted fish in the net, but ministers adopted for a complete discard ban, phased in over a number of years.