The Irish Times view on Ireland’s fishing industry: A post-Brexit quandary

The reality is that action to address the sector’s concerns will probably have to wait

A flotilla of fishing vessels makes its way up the Liffey in Dublin early on Wednesday ahead of a protest at Dublin Port. Photograph: Damien Storan

Fishermen and women are in a quandary over sharp Brexit cuts to their catch in the EU-UK trade agreement. The deal eliminates some €20 million from mackerel and prawn quotas this year. By 2026 the annual value of all stocks will drop €43 million, a 15 per cent cut from 2020.

For the fishing industry, this is the opposite of the decisive European solidarity that buttressed Ireland’s efforts to keep the Border open after Brexit. Trawlers sailed into Dublin port last week to protest outside a meeting of the Dáil in the convention centre.

After huge price cuts because of coronavirus, the mood is grim in coastal communities. The Seafood Task Force, a Government-appointed group that includes the industry, reports a "deep sense of grievance". The core complaint is that Ireland faces bigger Brexit cuts proportionally than other member states. This compounds anxiety at historic EU limits on the right to fish in Irish waters.

New Brussels rules that require fish to be weighed at piers instead of factories are another source of friction. Denounced as stone age procedures, they follow a European Commission audit in 2018 that found controls were highly deficient.


Fishermen insist it defies natural justice to impose drastic measures on the entire industry on the basis of an unpublished report. They have a point. But the Government must quickly introduce robust new controls to ensure rules are followed rigorously and remove scope for abuse. This is imperative for the industry’s efficiency and integrity. There are questions also for the Government’s credibility as it seeks leeway from EU partners on fish problems.

The taskforce called for a temporary cessation scheme in which vessels would tie up for one month. Owners would receive payments to replace lost income from EU Brexit funding. Minister for the Marine Charlie McConalogue is open to the proposal, although he is right to insist owners must ensure crew receive payments. He acknowledged other supports would be needed for refrigerated vessels that catch mackerel and other pelagic species.

Their €15.6 million quota cut this year is the biggest but a tie-up is problematic because of seasonal factors. The taskforce is examining options. Whatever it ultimately proposes, deploying temporary funding from Europe’s Brexit reserve is but a short-term salve.

The reality is that action to address the sector's concerns will probably have to await a review next year of the EU Common Fisheries Policy. That work will underpin the setting of new quotas in December 2022. McConalogue must make the case for a rebalancing of Brexit cuts and an increased Irish share of EU quotas overall. He faces a mammoth challenge. Bitter quarrels among member states over fish quotas are as inevitable as rows between the union itself and big non-EU fishing powers such as Norway.