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 As Brexit negotiations continue over fisheries, comments made by former taoiseach Bertie Ahern on the issue have angered a leading Irish fishing industry spokesman 

Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation (KFO) chief executive Sean O’Donoghue said he had contacted Minister for Marine Charlie McConalogue over remarks made on RTÉ Radio earlier this week by Mr Ahern.

Speaking on the Today with Claire Byrne show on the Brexit negotiations, Mr Ahern said he thought Britain “probably has a few arguments” in relation to fisheries.

Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation (KFO) chief executive Sean O’DonoghueKillybegs Fishermen’s Organisation (KFO) chief executive Sean O’Donoghue

Mr Ahern noted that Britain was being asked to stick to quotas set between 1973 and 1978, and Ireland had “never been happy” with the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) (dating from 1983) either.

He said that Denmark, Holland and France catch about 550,000 tonnes of fish in British waters, and Britain “only catches 94,000 tonnes in EU waters”.

“So I think they have an argument in that, “Mr Ahern said, and he believed this should be an issue for compromise by the EU.

The fishing industry represents only a fraction of a percentage of the British economy, and it is “not going to make a huge difference”, he said

In spite of British press reports about gunboats policing their waters, Mr Ahern said he believed Britain was more concerned about the financial issues involved in the so-called “level playing field”. 

His remarks were part of a wider discussion on Brexit on the December 14th edition of Today with Claire Byrne.

Mr O’Donoghue said he was very disappointed in Mr Ahern’s “off the cuff remarks” as he had failed to make it clear that any concessions to Britain would displace vessels into Irish waters.

He also said that Mr Ahern had made the same mistake as many politicians, in failing to recognise that sovereignty of waters and of fish stocks were two separate issues, given that many fish stocks migrate and do not recognise borders.

“Britain was awarded 90,000 tonnes in seven species ten years after it joined the EU, due to third country agreements where the EU bought rights to fish in non-EU waters,” Mr O’Donoghue said.

“It also benefited from the so-called Hague Preferences, and that means that it has benefited by at least a billion euro a year over the last ten years as a result of these concessions,” Mr O’Donoghue said.

“Britain has no jurisdiction over straddling stocks – waters and fish are two different things,” Mr O’Donoghue said.

"The fisheries issue in the Brexit talks has focused interest in Ireland on how badly the country is treated under the current Common Fisheries Policy".

A former Irish diplomat has separately warned that Ireland is likely to get a “raw deal” on fish from Brexit, and this will fuel “growing disenchantment” with Brussels.

Mr Bassett, Ireland's former ambassador to Canada, Jamaica and the Bahamas, told Express.co.uk: "The fisheries issue in the Brexit talks has focused interest in Ireland on how badly the country is treated under the current Common Fisheries Policy.

"This is very uncomfortable for the Government and the pro-EU lobby.

“The possibility, or more likely the probability that Ireland's meagre fish ration in its own waters may even be further reduced to cater for French, Spanish and Dutch fishing interests displaced by Brexit, is causing consternation,” Mr Bassett says.

Such circumstances would trigger demands in Ireland for the Common Fisheries Policy to be scrapped, putting Taoiseach Micheal Martin in an awkward position politically.

Mr Bassett added: "It again shows how short-sighted Ireland's policy was of throwing its lot in with the EU during Brexit.

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There has been a mixed Irish reaction to this year’s EU fish council, after a three-month “rollover” of catch allocations was agreed to facilitate ongoing Brexit negotiations.

EU ministers agreed to allocate total allowable catches (TACs) and quotas based on 2020 levels for a number of stocks for three months – but pledged to reconvene next month.

Ministers were faced with an impossible decision in setting annual TACs and quotas, due to uncertainty over access to British waters.

Minister for Marine Charlie McConalogue welcomed the agreement, but environmental non-governmental organisations including Birdwatch Ireland said it would encourage overfishing.

Minister for the Marine Charlie McConalogueMinister for the Marine Charlie McConalogue

Mr McConalogue said the “rollover” allocated 25 per cent of this year’s TACs for the majority of stocks until the end of March 2021.

He said that a “higher rollover” of up to 65 per cent had been applied to “certain migratory stocks that are fished mainly during the first few months of the year, and are of particular importance to Ireland”.

He said he “supported this common-sense approach which will ensure continuity for our fishing industry without prejudicing the outcome of the ongoing negotiations on the future relationship with the UK”.

Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation (KFO) chief executive Sean O ‘Donoghue also said that it was the only option that ministers could take.

Mr O’Donoghue welcomed the pelagic species allocation, but noted that these stocks would normally have 90 per cent of their total TAC set for the first three months of the year and received 73 per cent of that amount instead.

Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation (KFO) chief executive Sean O‘DonoghueKillybegs Fishermen’s Organisation (KFO) chief executive Sean O‘Donoghue

There was also uncertainty over the key prawn fishery on the Porcupine Bank off the Irish south-west coast, he said.

Mr McConalogue said that Commissioner Sinkevičius “understood that the quota made available in the important prawn fishery in the Porcupine Bank would not be adequate to support the planned fishery”.

“The Commissioner committed to work with me during January to deliver an amendment that will allow this fishery to continue under its normal pattern,” he said, noting it was a “very important issue for me”.

“There are other complex strands to the negotiations around shared stocks, of which there are 119 out of 146 divided with the UK,” Mr O’Donoghue pointed out.

“ This will require a bilateral with the UK, and also a trilateral between the EU, Norway and the UK, as well as a bilateral between EU and Norway. None of these negotiations has happened due to the protracted Brexit backdrop,” he said.

The EU Fisheries Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius stated that he regretted that ministers were “not fully willing to take into account the scientific advice”.

The NGO Our Fish criticised the ministerial agreement on fish, saying it was “a shameful move that undermines global progress towards achieving a healthy ocean and the EU's commitment to sustainable fisheries management”

Our Fish programme director Rebecca Hubbard said it would cause overfishing which would prove “difficult to reverse”.

“Of the TACs set for approximately 30 EU-only fish stocks, it appears that around 30% have been set above scientific advice for sustainable limits, as provided by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES),” she said.

BirdWatch Ireland’s policy officer Fintan Kelly said that the Irish Government “continues to fail when it comes to matching their rhetoric on sustainability with actions”.

“Ireland continues to undermine science and drive overfishing at EU fisheries negotiations,” he said.

“ This is despite the fact that overfishing has driven the collapse of many important Irish stocks, with serious impacts on sea life and the fishing communities that depend on them to make a living,” he said.

He cited as one example the collapse of the Celtic Sea herring fishery.

“ With everything that is going on with COVID-19 and Brexit, the collapse of fish populations is the last thing the fishing sector needs,” Mr Kelly said.

“Decision-making blinkered by short-term profits is killing the life in our seas and threatening the future viability of fishing communities. We need a new approach which recognizes that profitable fisheries are dependent on healthy fish stocks,” he said.

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The Marine Minister Charlie McConalogue T.D., has welcomed the agreement reached at the EU Council of Fisheries Ministers in Brussels overnight to set quotas for fish stocks for the first three months of 2021.

The Minister said, “Our fisheries sector has faced unprecedented challenges during 2020. We have the uncertainty relating to the potential severe impacts of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU that has been hanging over our heads since 2016. In addition, of course this year, the sector has had to cope with the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 Pandemic on our seafood markets.”

The Minister added, “There is still no agreement to date with the UK on a future relationship, including fisheries, and therefore no agreement on the how we collectively manage our shared stocks. In the absence of such an agreement, we need interim arrangements to ensure continuity of fishing by our fleets in the early part of the New Year. The issue was to get those arrangements in place to allow us to open our fisheries on 1 January. In addition, for a small number of key fisheries, I secured arrangements taking into account that a high proportion of the fishery occurs in the first quarter of the year. “

Fisheries Ministers agreed to set interim Total Allowable Catches (TACs) and quotas for the first quarter of 2021 based on a “rollover” of 25% of the 2020 TAC levels for the majority of stocks. A higher rollover has been applied to certain migratory stocks that are fished mainly during the first few months of the year and are of particular importance to Ireland.

Minister McConalogue said, “I supported this common-sense approach which will ensure continuity for our fishing industry without prejudicing the outcome of the ongoing negotiations on the future relationship with the UK. It was vital to me that the percentage rollover for those stocks that we traditionally fish in the early part of the year were sufficient. I am very pleased that this was achieved for the early season or migratory stocks of mackerel, blue whiting and horse mackerel.”

The Minister went on to say that, “Commissioner Sinkevičius understood that the quota made available in the important prawn fishery in the Porcupine Bank would not be adequate to support the planned fishery. The Commissioner committed to work with me during January to deliver an amendment that will allow this fishery to continue under its normal pattern. This was a very important issue for me and will ensure that our fishermen can plan in the normal way for the early part of the year.”

The Minister thanked the Commissioner for his constructive approach to the negotiations “Commissioner Sinkevičius and the German Presidency listened to the concerns which I set out in relation to the issues facing Irish fishermen during these difficult times. The agreement reached at Council today will ensure that our fish stocks are managed sustainably and that our fleets can continue to fish in the New Year.”

A further Council will be held to finalise the TACs for the remainder of 2021. This will take place early in the New Year, following consultations with the UK and Norway on shared stocks.

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A “heroic herring” which manages to avoid hungry, cod, dolphins and supertrawlers is the “star” of an online game released by a non-governmental organisation in advance of next week’s EU fisheries council.

The game entitled “Ocean Uprising” has been devised by the “Our Fish” campaign, which says it is dedicated to ending overfishing and restoring a healthy ocean ecosystem.

“By inviting the public to follow the adventures of our caped herring crusader, we hope that Ocean Uprising can spread awareness of the connection between healthy fish stocks and a healthy ocean, as well as the destructive impact that overfishing is having on our ocean and climate,” Our Fish programme director Rebecca Hubbard says.

Participants are asked to sign a petition calling for an end to destructive overfishing and addressed to the European Commission, EU Council and member states.

The EU fisheries council is due to open on December 15th and 16th, but this year’s quota talks are overshadowed by the continuing Brexit negotiations - with fisheries one of three key sticking points as of this week.

More here

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Minister for Marine Charlie McConalogue has said he is “committed” to protecting inshore waters for smaller fishing vessels.

Mr McConalogue is currently appealing a recent High Court ruling which overturned a new Government policy directive to protect inshore waters.

The directive to exclude trawling by vessels over 18 metres inside the six-mile nautical limit was declared null and void by a recent High Court ruling after a judicial review challenging its validity was taken by two fishermen.

The ruling found that there had been a breach of fair procedures in relation to consultation.

Mr McConalogue has said this week that the High Court’s ruling has been appealed by the State to the Court of Appeal, with a date of December 11th set for court hearing directions.

The minister said while he could not comment on the matter, he is “committed to delivering the promises made in the Programme for Government that inshore waters continue to be protected for smaller fishing vessels and pair trawling be prohibited inside the six-mile limit”.

He was responding to a parliamentary question tabled by Independent Galway West TD Catherine Connolly.

She had asked him if he intended to conduct a second consultation process on trawling activity inside the six nautical mile zone in view of a recent High Court judgement which found that the previous consultation process was defective.

Over 900 submissions were received in response to the original public consultation in December 2018. The directive had allowed a transition period of three years for vessels over 18m targeting sprat.

This was to “enable adjustment for these vessels, as the sprat fishery is concentrated inside the six nautical mile zone”, Mr McConalogue said.

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The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Charlie McConalogue T.D. today welcomed a provisional agreement concluded between the European Council and European Parliament on the text of the new European Maritime Fisheries and Aquaculture Fund (EMFAF) which will disperse a €6.108 billion budget over the 2021-27 period to promote the sustainable development of the European Union’s seafood sector. Following final legal and technical scrutiny of the agreed text, the proposal will go to the EU Council and the EU Parliament for endorsement, with enactment expected early in 2021.

Welcoming the deal, Minister McConalogue said, “Following a positive engagement between the Council and Parliament over the past year, I am very pleased to note that a provisional agreement has now been reached on the new EU Fund to replace the EMFF for the next seven years 2021-27. Ireland is set to receive some €142 million of EU funds from the new Fund, to be combined with co-funding from the Government of Ireland, which I will discuss with Minister McGrath. This is very good news for Ireland’s fishermen, fish farmers, processors and coastal communities. The departure of the UK has significantly reduced the overall EU budget, so it is all the more pleasing that we have succeeded in broadly maintaining funding for our seafood sectors at the previous high levels.”

Minister McConalogue added, “My Department has been working hard to put together a new Seafood Development Programme for the 2021-27 period and this development will allow the remaining elements of that Programme to be advanced, in consultation with our stakeholders, with a view to the adoption of the new Programme later in 2021.”

The European Maritime, Fisheries and Aquaculture Fund (EMFAF) for the period 2021-2027 amounts to 6.1 billion EUR (6.108 billion EUR in current prices). Some 5.3 billion EUR will be allocated for the management of fisheries, aquaculture and fishing fleets, while the remaining sum will cover measures such as scientific advice, controls and checks, market intelligence, maritime surveillance and security.

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As efforts continue to agree a final Brexit deal, two Wexford fishermen have outlined on RTÉ Radio Countrywide how devastating loss of access to British waters will be.

British prime minister Boris Johnson met European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen on Saturday in an attempt to break a deadlock reached late last week on three issues - fisheries, fair trade and dispute resolution. 

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier and British lead negotiator David Frost are due to resume their talks in Brussels today, and Ms Von der Leyen and Mr Johnson have agreed to speak again on Monday evening. 

“Brexit is going to affect every port and harbour where fishing is the lifeblood of communities,” Will Bates (43), a third-generation fisherman from the Co Wexford port told RTÉ Radio Countrywide.

Bates, whose grandfather also ran the ferry to the Saltee islands bird colony, said quotas in Irish waters were not enough to sustain him and many other Irish vessels.

Return of all British quotas

Former Bord Iascaigh Mhara (BIM) technologist Dr Peter Tyndall has said that Ireland should be ensuring that it secures return of all British quotas previously held in Irish waters. 

This would provide some recompense for loss of an area that represents some 34 per cent of total Irish landings annually, Dr Tyndall said, pointing out the current situation highlighted the consequences of a poor deal secured by Ireland in the original Common Fisheries Policy.

Fishing time in British waters

Speaking to RTÉ Radio after returning from scallop fishing in Cardigan Bay off the Welsh coast, Mr Bates estimated that he spends 60 per cent of his fishing time in British waters. 

Kilmore Quay also has a prawn fleet which risks losing access to the Smalls basin – one of only two substantial prawn grounds, the other being the Porcupine Basin off the west coast.

Fellow Wexford fisherman Seamus Molloy (45), from Piercetown, pointed out that while Ireland has ten per cent of total EU waters on paper, rich spawning grounds make it far more significant in practice. 

“After Britain leaves, we will have 15 per cent of EU waters, but we have 30 per cent of fishable waters, because Spain and Portugal have fished out their inshore areas,” Mr Molloy said.

Molloy and Bates said they feared Irish stocks were being used as a bargaining tool, where EU fleets excluded from British waters would be allocated extra catch off the Irish coast. 

“Ireland has the resource which the other states lack,” they said.

The Kilmore Quay community worked with Sean Moroney on a film posted last month on YouTube which also outlines their concerns.

A week ago, British negotiator Lord David Frost rejected an EU offer to hand back 18 per cent of fishing quotas.

Britain is seeking 80 per cent, and there were reports that EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier had offered a compromise of 60 per cent.

France confirmed on Friday that it would veto a deal if it was not satisfied with it, while Mr Johnson was warned by Eurosceptic Tory MPs not to give any more ground.

The Daily Telegraph reported that both sides thought a deal was close on Thursday, with Britain allowing the EU to keep almost 50 per cent of its current quotas at the beginning of a multi-year transitional period, after which Britain would allocate quotas on an annual basis. 

However, the newspaper said the stalemate arose when the EU then demanded "total access" to British waters for 10 years and also reverted to its original offer of giving back just 18 per cent of its current quotas to Britain. 

Hear the full RTE Radio Countrywide interview with the Kilmore Quay skipper here

And watch the YouTube video: 

Who Owns the Seas? Fishermen of Kilmore Quay speak their minds

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The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue T.D, today attended a virtual meeting with EU Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier in relation to the current state of play in the negotiations on a fisheries agreement with the UK. The meeting involved Fisheries Ministers from EU Member States most impacted by the UK withdrawal from the EU, including Ministers from France, Germany, Spain, Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands and Belgium.

Ministers welcomed Mr Barnier’s strong commitment to the link between the overall economic partnership and the conclusion of a fishing agreement. Minister McConalogue urged Mr Barnier to stay firm on this and not to agree to any short-term arrangement on fisheries which would serve to break this link.

Minister McConalogue again stressed that “Ireland’s fishing industry needs a strong and stable EU/UK Fisheries agreement. Our fishing industry is in a particularly vulnerable position as Ireland shares its main fish stocks and its waters on three sides with the UK and needs to retain access to UK waters and to shared resources.”

The Minister also emphasised that any outcome in the future relationship negotiations that results in a loss of quota share for the EU would be damaging to Ireland’s fishing industry. The Minister also stated that in the event of No Deal and EU vessels being denied access to UK waters Ireland could face serious difficulties arising from displacement of EU fishing activity into our zone.

Commenting afterwards on the meeting, Minister McConalogue said “I appreciated the opportunity again today to meet with Mr Barnier and outline again Ireland's serious concerns in relation to the potential impacts for Ireland’s fishing industry if a fair and balanced Fisheries Agreement with the UK is not reached. I have continued confidence that Irish and EU fishing interests will be robustly defended by Mr Barnier and his team in this late phase of negotiations.”

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Students from Norway and other countries are participating in a higher diploma in aquabusiness which is now in its fourth year in Wexford.

A total of 19 students have registered for the one-year part-time diploma in “business in aquabusiness” which is being run by Carlow Institute of Technology’s (CIT) Wexford campus.

As Afloat reported previously, the course was developed by CIT with Bord Iascaigh Mhara (BIM).

It is the only Fetac level eight course aimed. at the fisheries, marine and aquaculture sector in Ireland.

Numbers have doubled as the course goes from “strength to strength”, according to the college.

Students of last year’s course recently participated in an online graduation ceremony due to Covid-19.

However, some of the fisheries sector graduates gathered in a socially distant manner for a photograph at Kilmore Quay harbour, along with three Wexford campus staff and a local representative of BIM.

The course presents two annual awards in memory of late Donegal fishing industry leader Joey Murrin, and the late BIM chief executive Brendan O’Kelly.

Presentation of these awards to the latest graduates has been deferred until the public health situation improves.

CIT’s Wexford campus says that the three remaining modules for the fourth year of the higher diploma will run online from January 2021.

These modules can be taken separately as certificates.

The law and regulation modules will be covered every second Friday and Saturday from mid-January, while strategic and innovation management will run from late February.

A module in planning will be covered from mid-April.

Interested students for these subjects as certificates can contact course Amy Allen at email address [email protected]

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Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue T.D., today chaired a meeting of the Sea Fisheries Liaison Group of Fisheries Stakeholders to discuss the European Commission’s proposal for Fishing Opportunities for 2021. The meeting was attended by fishing industry representative bodies and environmental NGOs.

This meeting is held each year in advance of the negotiations at the December EU Fisheries Council so that the Minister can hear the views of all fisheries stakeholders on the Commission’s proposals for Total Allowable Catches (TACs) and quotas for the following year. This is an important part of the Sustainability Impact Assessment of the Commission’s proposal, which also includes a public consultation and as well as expert contributions from the Marine Institute (MI) and Bord Iascaigh Mhara (BIM).

Minister McConalogue said “There was the good engagement at the meeting today. This is an important opportunity for me to hear the views of stakeholders as we prepare for setting of Total Allowable Catches for Fish Stocks for 2021.”

The Minister added “The disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the uncertainty relating to the impacts of Brexit on Fisheries has made 2020 a challenging and unprecedented year for fisheries. In these uncertain times, it is more important than ever that we work together to achieve the best possible outcome for the Irish Fishing Community while ensuring the sustainability of fish stocks.”

Minister McConalogue will present the Sustainability Impact Assessment to the Joint Committee on Agriculture and the Marine on Tuesday 1 December.

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