Fishing industry representatives have welcomed the annual quota deal secured by Minister for Marine Simon Coveney in Brussels early on Wednesday, which involves a new ban on discards at sea of several whitefish species.
Mr Coveney said that the 2016 deal, secured at 1.30am after two days of negotiations, represents 36,886 tonnes of whitefish at an estimated value of €131 million.
This represents a ten per cent increase on this year’s share, he said, with an overall eight per cent increase in prawns, one of Ireland’s most valuable fisheries.
The ban on discarding undersized or over-quota fish at sea will apply from January 1st to prawn, whiting, haddock and hake.
Vessels will have to land these fish, which are then offset against their quota.
Mr Coveney said an additional share of 18 per cent overall for these stocks had been secured to cover this offset.
This could represent an extra value of €9 million, if more selective methods are used to avoid juvenile catches, he said.
“We are currently rolling out the most radical reform ever agreed under the Common Fisheries Policy(CFP),”Mr Coveney said.
“The phasing out of discards is a challenging policy for the fishing community to implement,” he said.
He said under the new policy, quotas were set at the highest level possible while ensuring stock sustainability - an approach known as maximum sustainable yield (MSY).
“In some cases, moving towards MSY will result in short-term reductions in quota as we rebuild stocks, and we can see that reflected in the four per cent reduction in cod in the Celtic Sea and a 13 per cent reduction in the haddock stock in the Celtic Sea,”he noted.
“ However, the benefits of the policy are visible in the Celtic Sea where we now have an increase of 26 per cent in the whiting stock which is now being managed at MSY levels,” he added.
Ports around the coast would all benefit, he said, with the 50 million euro prawn fishery -which had faced a ten per cent cut - being among the most important.
He said that the Donegal ports of Greencastle and Killybegs would be able to avail of a 20 per cent increase in whitefish quotas, particularly in megrim ( 26 per cent), monkfish (20 per cent), north west haddock (42 per cent) and Rockhall haddock (25 per cent).
The west and south-west ports of Ros a Mhil,Co Galway, Dingle,Co Kerry, Castletownbere and Union Hall, Co Cork, and Dunmore East, Co Waterford would enjoy seven per cent whitefish quota increases, notably in whiting (26 per cent), megrim (5 per cent), and hake (21 per cent).
The Irish Sea haddock quota will increase by 40 per cent which is important for the ports of Clogherhead,Co Louth, Howth, Co Dublin, and Kilmore Quay, Co Wexford, he said.
The north and west coast pelagic fleet would benefit from a 48 per cent increase in the large horse mackerel quota, while albacore tuna caught by the south-west tuna fleet will increase by three per cent.
He said that further scientific advice was being sought with a view to establishing a small commercial fishery for herring off the west and north-west coast.
The fisheries council also agreed to further conservation measures for endangered sea bass, which will include a catch and release system for the recreational angling fishery for the first half of 2016, with a one fish “bag limit” for the second half of the year.
The Irish Wildlife Trust had urged fisheries ministers to adhere to scientific advice, while Birdwatch Ireland had expressed concern before the council that 48 per cent of assessed stocks in the north-east Atlantic and adjoining waters were known to be overfished.
Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation chief executive Sean O’Donoghue described the outcome as “very positive”, while Irish Fish Producers’ Organisation chief executive Francis O’Donnell paid tribute to Mr Coveney and his team.
“All in all, the package negotiated by Mr Coveney and his officials is a good one,” Mr O’Donnell said, with most areas doing very well for key stocks.
“A very committed and significant effort was made by Mr Coveney to secure a fair deal for Ireland in terms of north-west herring, a very valuable fishery for Ireland,” Mr O’Donnell noted.
However, a deal could not be reached due to British opposition to Ireland’s request for a 50 per cent share.
“A deal between Ireland and Britain will have to be agreed in February 2016,and it is expected that Ireland may get in excess of 30 per cent in terms of the share of that stock as a minimum,” Mr O’Donnell said.
However, he said most member states were "furious" with the European Commission for agreeing to a "Machiavellian" approach on blue whiting, which has resulted in the EU and Norway fishing separate total allowable catches."
Norway has now increased its share of the blue whiting stock, while also increasing its access to fish same in European waters,” Mr O’Donnell noted.