Progress on Fish

 

Like the turkey and the Christmas tree, there is something of a set pattern to the final EU fisheries council of the year. One item normally dominates the agenda the size of fish catches and quotas within the Community's pond for the following 12, months.

This year, Ireland fared relatively well in the carve up. Industry representatives have congratulated the Minister for the Marine, Mr Barrett, for his achievement. Apart from the 2,730 tonne increase secured his Department also completed successful negotiations before the December council with Norway on Atlantic Scando herring. Mr Joey Murrin of the Killybegs Fishermen's Organisation has said that this represents a welcome new opportunity for the Donegal super trawler fleet pressed as it has been over the last couple of years by cuts in the mackerel share.

This Christmas other significant items were due to be discussed. A decision on proposed fleet cuts of up to 40 per cent was deferred, and the Irish compromise proposal, aimed at conserving catches, is to be taken up by the Dutch EU presidency. However, agreement was reached n satellite monitoring, in spite of widespread opposition to what some term as a "spy in the sky" approach. Denmark had described it as an infringement of civil liberties.

If the decision represents a significant coup for the Irish Minister, who was in the chair, the announcement was accompanied by a frustrating dearth of detail. Vessels over 24 metres in length 20 metres between perpendiculars will be affected from 1998. This we know. It could involve up to 70 Irish boats. Funding for installation is promised. But who is to administer the scheme, and who will pay for maintenance?

The logical answer in Ireland's case is the Naval Service, which set up the initial pilot project. However, the Department of the Marine has been unable to confirm that this is the case. In fact, the Department, which is short on resources and long on hardworking staff, is either unprepared for the scheme's introduction, or it has decided that it intends to run it itself. It is already administering the Irish Marine Emergency Service (IMES) with considerable success.

Yet there is also the potential for friction, particularly when IMES radio operators, normally shore bound, are placed in charge of search and rescue operations at sea. The Naval Service has sought to avoid conflict in its various duties for the Department by requesting a memorandum of understanding. Such a set of operational guidelines was drawn up with the Garda Siochana and the Customs Service to improve co-operation on drugs surveillance. The plan is said to be working very well.

Asked recently if he would favour such an agree which could identify the Naval Service role in control, the Minister for the Marine indicated that he did not. The same Minister, who is responsible for the current review of defence forces, is under considerable pressure to produce a national policy on the marine. In the interests of coherence, co-ordination, and preparation for the forthcoming Common Fisheries Policy Review, he would do well to think again.