Ireland has successfully resisted radical cuts in key whitefish quotas, following a deal brokered by Minister for the Marine Simon Coveney at the EU Agrifish council in Brussels.
Mr Coveney has said the deal, worth €123 million, represented a "much improved outcome" over original "very worrying" European Commission proposals.
The Federation of Irish Fishermen (FIF) has said that the outcome was still “disappointing” for vessels fishing the Celtic Sea for cod, whiting and haddock.
Significantly, the Irish quota for prawns – the fleet’s second most important fishery – has been increased by a marginal 3 per cent.
The European Commission had been proposing quota reductions of 14 per cent for prawns, along with a 64 per cent cut for cod, 41 per cent for haddock, 20 per cent for pollack, skate and ray, 14 per cent for whiting, 12 per cent for monkfish and four per cent for hake.
Mr Coveney had said he faced his “most serious” council ever, and the Irish industry had warned that the European Commission’s proposals could cost up to 600 full and part-time jobs around the coast.
The FIF says the deal as brokered will avoid some of those losses.
Key points include a 20 per cent increase in the northwest monkfish quota; a minor increase for the megrim quota, a doubling of the Rockall haddock quota and a 14 per cent increase in Donegal haddock for the ports of Greencastle and Killybegs.
Mr Coveney said that the 3 per cent increase in the €60 million prawn fishery would benefit the ports of Clogherhead, Co Louth; Howth,Co Dublin Union Hall and Castletownbere, Co Cork, Dingle, Co Kerry and Rossaveal, Co Galway.
He said he had also secured an 11 per cent increase in hake off the south-west coast, and no change in monkfish and megrim which together provide for a €27 million fishery involving the southern ports of Castletownbere and Dingle.
For the mixed whitefish fisheries off the south and west coasts, Ireland was allocated a 12 per cent reduction in haddock (down from a 41 per cent proposed cut); a 13 per cent cut in cod (reduced from the 64 per cent proposed cut) and 12 per cent reduction in whiting (from a proposed 14 per cent cut), Mr Coveney noted.
“While the reduction in prawns(nephrops) has now been eliminated with a small increase, the reductions in cod, haddock and whiting are both unnecessary and will only lead to increased discarding,” FIF chairman Sean O’Donoghue said.
He said that Ireland was protected from more severe reductions by invocation of the”Hague Preferences”.
The Hague resolution, agreed by EU heads of state in 1976, represented payment in kind for granting EU fleets access to Irish waters – some of the largest and most biologically rich in “blue Europe”.
The FIF was also critical of a “zero” total allowable catch for herring off the Donegal coast next year, and said it “did not reflect the reality on the fishing grounds”.
A commitment to revisit this in February after a scientific review “leaves some hope for change”, Mr O’Donoghue said.
The Pew Charitable Trust alliance of environmental groups strongly criticised the deal, noting that the 28 member state ministers had decided on total allowable catches that “are above scientific advice and in contradiction to the reformed Common Fisheries Policy (CFP)”.
The Pew Trust said it was calling on new European commissioner for environment, fisheries, and maritime affairs Karmenu Vella to “do his utmost as custodian of the reformed CFP to ensure that overfishing ends within the agreed timeline.
The Environmental Pillar, representing 28 Irish environmental groups, had 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”.
BirdWatch Ireland head of policy Siobhán Egan, who is part of the Environmental Pillar, said ministers had “missed an opportunity” under the revised CFP.
Under the CFP, overfishing must be tackled by 2015 through setting quotas that match “maximum sustainable yield” of stocks - unless socio-economic factors dictate otherwise.
Ms Egan said the CFP did not allow for delays to this commitment beyond 2015, but “only if there is evidence that sticking to the deadline would seriously jeopardise the social and economic sustainability of the fishing fleets involved”.
While Mr Coveney had presented a fisheries sustainability impact assessment, it had only taken into account the “short-term impact” and not the “medium term benefits of reaching sustainable fishing limts”, Ms Egan said.