Minister wants to set agenda for fisheries policy review


IRELAND's tenure of the EU presidency is an opportunity to set the agenda for the Common Fisheries Policy review, the Minister of State for the Marine has said.

In a signal to both Government and industry, Mr Eamon Gilmore said now was the time to prepare Ireland's ease. Ireland assumes the EU presidency in July and lobbying has already begun for a change in the terms of the Common Fisheries Policy which is due to expire in six years.

Mr Gilmore, who departed from his script at a marine policy seminar in Galway on Friday, also called for structural change in the marine food sector.

Iceland's seafood industry employment was similar to that of Ireland, yet it was five times more productive - with an industry worth £1.2 billion annually and its own distribution network in key markets like Britain and the US.

No Irish seafood company was large enough to have its own distribution links overseas and this "strategic weakness" should be flagged in the Government's marine food plan, he said.

The purpose of the marine policy seminars was not to produce "yet another report to weigh down bookshelves", but to help construct a national policy, Mr Gilmore said. A set of national objectives would endure beyond the life of individual governments, he added.

The Galway seminar on marine food was the third in a series of four, hosted by the Marine Institute on behalf of the Department of the Marine. Seafish exports are worth over £200 million.

Earlier, Dr John Mereer of University College Galway said some 17 keynote reports on marine resources had been published in the last four decades. One of those, an OECD report of 1973, was still valid and be hoped this exercise was going to lead to "some action". Emphasising the importance of sustainable yield, Dr Mereer said the marine resource must be utilised rather than exploited.

Formal and regular contact should be established between the four marine food sectors - sea fisheries, shellfish, finfish farming and seaweed because of their many common interests and common problems, Mr James Ryan of Killary Salmon Farming proposed. All four sectors required more resources for marketing, more research, better roads and infrastructure, and all shared a "similar frustration", he said.

A "culture of deception" in European fish quota management precluded proper development, Mr Mark Lochrin of the Irish Fish Producer Organisation said.

Making the link between resource conservation and the potential of Ireland's marine food industry, Mr Lochrin said there was an ambivalent attitude to foreign vessels landing fish in Ireland due to the lack of confidence in the EU quota regime. The EU emphasis was on consumers rather than primary producers and the trend in the last few years had been to reinforce "distortions" and "sharp practice", he said.

The CFP review in 2002 could have serious implications for the shellfish industry, with EU states competing to use up to 65 per cent of Irish non quota stocks, Dr Terence O'Carroll of Bord Iascaigh Mhara told the seminar.

Ireland's shellfish landings were worth over £36 million, based on first sale value, in 1994 - some £30 million of which is wild shellfish and £6 million cultivated. Even if quotas were not imposed on shellfish, a proper stock assessment was essential for sustainable management, he said. Conflicts with other sectors should also be addressed through a proper coastal zone management plan.

Addressing the debate on finfish farming, Mr Diarmuid Mulcahy of the Irish Salmon Growers Association said no other industry had as much damage done to it by "unproven theories". Salmon farmers had invested much time and resources in scientific research to argue against this.