Irish ‘blue economy’ outperforming general economy

Michael Creed appeals for ‘united’ front from EU states on negotiating fisheries deal

Minister for the Marine Michael Creed said  fisheries must be treated as part of the wider trade negotiations with Britain – and not “isolated” as a sector. Photograph: Alan Betson

Minister for the Marine Michael Creed said fisheries must be treated as part of the wider trade negotiations with Britain – and not “isolated” as a sector. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

Ireland’s small but significant “blue economy” is outperforming the general economy, an NUI Galway (NUIG) study says.

The ocean economy had a turnover of €5.7 billion in 2016 and indirect economic value amounted to €1.57 billion, the study by NUIG’s Socio-Economic Marine Research Unit found.

The study, which was published at the annual Seafest in Galway, said the ocean economy provided employment for more than 30,000 people last year, and found established marine industries had a turnover of €5.3 billion.

Oil and gas exploration and production, marine aquaculture and tourism, and leisure in marine and coastal areas all experienced a significant increase in activity between 2014 and 2016.

“Emerging” marine industries had a turnover of €383 million and provided employment to close to 2,000 people, the study said.

Overall, the sector represents some 1.7 per cent of gross domestic product.

Co-author Dr Stephen Hynes said that the figures showed steady movement towards Government targets for 2030 on “ocean wealth”, but noted that the “influence of the ocean on Irish society” was “even more pervasive” than indicated by the analysis.

Outperform

Miguel Marques, Price Waterhouse Cooper’s “economist of the sea”, said current projections indicate that the global ocean gross value added can double by 2030, and Ireland can “significantly outperform” this.

Addressing the Government’s national “ocean wealth” conference at NUIG, Mr Marques identified “blue biotechnology” and the seafood industry, including aquaculture, as among key opportunities for Ireland.

Both fishing and aquaculture will bridge a “food gap” that conventional farming will no longer be able to provide for when the world’s population reaches nine billion by 2050, he said.

Brexit and potential changes in US trading rules are part of a challenging “shift in global economic power”, but a focus on developing the “blue economy” will yield greater wealth and create jobs here, he said.

“Brexit could represent an opportunity for Ireland to reduce some of its dependences, economically, and diversify more,” he said.

Earlier, Minister for the Marine Michael Creed warned that any attempt by Ireland to renegotiate the EU Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) in the context of Brexit would only “strengthen” Britain’s hand.

In an appeal to the Irish fishing industry to put past injustices behind it, Mr Creed said the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, supported his view that fisheries must be treated as part of the wider trade negotiations with Britain – and not “isolated” as a sector.

Quotas

Ireland and fellow EU member states must be “united and unequivocal” in “total opposition to any dilution of existing EU quota shares and access”, Mr Creed said at a Brexit debate, and “normal hostilities” would only resume at December quota-setting councils.

Any “disunity” among EU member states over fishing rights and access in European waters would only play to Britain’s advantage, he warned.

The UK Fisheries Bill announced in Queen Elizabeth’s speech last week will allow Britain to set its own quotas if enacted, but Mr Creed stressed that this was “not a cause for alarm”.

A legal mechanism to manage fisheries internally would be required, once Britain leaves the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), he said.

Two key Irish industry organisations are at odds over Ireland’s approach to Brexit, with the Irish South and West Fishermen’s Organisation favouring a strategy where Ireland would take the opportunity to seek renegotiation of the CFP.

However, the Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation (KFO), which represents the lucrative mackerel sector and the sole Irish organisation on a EU Fisheries Alliance , believes the focus should be solely on Brexit.

“The idea that we can fight a battle on two fronts is crazy,” KFO chief executive Sean O’Donoghue said.

The Irish industry’s greatest fear is that EU vessels with quota entitlements in British waters will be displaced into Irish waters – putting enormous pressure on spawning grounds for key stocks.

Mr O’Donoghue said that issues of access, quota share and trade “must be linked” and if the EU fleet is displaced to Irish waters, then “we have lost the game”.

Mr Creed said he believed that displacement was the “worse case scenario”, speaking at a press briefing after the debate.

Ireland’s seafood sector grew by 7.4 per cent ,contributing €1.1 billion in gross domestic product to the Irish economy, according to Bord Iascaigh Mhara’s annual Business of Seafood report. The “Seafest” programme continues with a number of free events in Galway over the weekend.