Coveney welcomes EU fishing reform deal

Agreement may see stocks rise by up to 15 million tonnes by the end of decade

The European Union has agreed to put an end to decades of over-fishing and rebuild dwindling stocks by 2020, as part of a deal to overhaul the union’s fisheries policy. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times.

The European Union has agreed to put an end to decades of over-fishing and rebuild dwindling stocks by 2020, as part of a deal to overhaul the union’s fisheries policy. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times.

 

Minister for the Marine Simon Coveney has welcomed a deal reached by the EU that will put an end to decades of over-fishing and rebuild dwindling stocks by 2020.

The agreement to overhaul the union’s fisheries policy will put an end to annual haggling over catch quotas by EU ministers in Brussels, widely blamed for putting short-term economic interests above the long-term health of Europe’s fish stocks.

Officials said a deal to follow scientific advice more closely when setting quotas in the future could increase EU fish stocks by up to 15 million tonnes by the end of the decade.

The reform will also see a massive reduction in the wasteful practice known as discarding, which sees European fishermen throw almost 2 million tonnes of unwanted fish back into the sea each year - often dead or dying - as they seek to fill strict quotas with the most valuable species.

Mr Coveney said agreement had been reached on a policy which was “ practical, implementable and one which places sustainability firmly at its core”.

The new policy meant quotas had to be set that fully respected scientific advice, he said.

“This will lead to healthy fish stocks and higher quotas as fish stocks are managed at maximum sustainable yield levels.”

He said that from an Irish perspective the so-called Hague Preferences had been protected, which give additional quotas to Ireland each year for critical traditional stocks around our coast such as cod, haddock and whiting.

Mr Coveney said the “complex element” of ending discarding had been “ one of the most contentious and difficult to agree given the many different perspectives on how such a ban would work in practice”.

“The reform, when taken as a whole, delivers on not just a discards ban but also provides the means for new ways of sustainable fishing, a more transparent and competitive market, as well as empowering fishermen by giving them a central role in decision making for their fisheries.”

Ireland North West MEP Pat the Cope Gallagher, a negotiator for the European Parliament on the reforms, disagreed that the Hague Preferences had been enshrined into the reform.

The preferences agreed in 1976 guarantee Ireland minimum quantities of key stocks in Irish waters in exchange for granting access to other member states to our fishing grounds.

Mr Gallagher said he had made last-minute proposals during the negotiations which had been accepted.

“This new policy will last for the next 10 years and it must be implemented in a way that protects and develops the seafood industry in Ireland which employs over 12,000 people, in many coastal and small island communities throughout Ireland,” he said in a statement.

“The introduction of the discard ban will only work in practice if the principles of avoidance and minimisation through more selective gear and incentives to encourage stakeholder compliance are adhered to.”

The EU’s roughly €1 billion common fisheries policy has been blamed for driving decades of over-fishing, with generous subsidies leading to a massive over capacity in the fishing fleet.

As a result, the commission estimates that 75 per cent of European fish stocks are currently over-fished, compared with 25 per cent worldwide.

As part of the deal, EU fishing nations will have to reduce the size of their fleets to reflect their overall quotas or face the loss of some subsidies.

The deal must now be rubber-stamped by EU governments and the full European Parliament before entering force next year, but the details are unlikely to change.

Europe had the third-highest fish catches globally behind China and Indonesia in 2010, the most recent data from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization showed.

Europe’s top fishing nations are Denmark, Spain, Britain and France, which together account for about half of all EU catches.

Additional reporting: Reuters