Minister for Marine Michael Creed has been forced to close the Celtic Sea herring fishery due to a virtual collapse of the multi-million euro stock writes Lorna Siggins
The closure order, which has not yet been released publicly, was issued by Mr Creed just 48 hours after the seasonal fishery opened.
The decision was taken due to the small size of fish landed into Ringaskiddy and Castletownbere, Co Cork and Dingle, Co Kerry earlier this week.
It is understood that a further survey of fish size will take place in two weeks.
“There were no other choices, and the industry recommended this due to the juvenile fish being landed – it was a mature decision by the industry,” Irish Fish Producers’ Organisation (IFPO) chief executive Francis O’Donnell said.
Last year, the Celtic Sea herring fishery lost a valuable international sustainable fishery accreditation awarded by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC).
The MSC had accredited the fishery in 2012 and undertook a five-year review in 2017 which it informed its decision to remove the certification last year.
The accreditation had increased the value of the stock, much of which is exported to Europe for the roll-mop herring market.
This, in turn, put pressure on the stock, with quotas falling from a peak of 30,000 tonnes to about 20 per cent of that last year, as recommended by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea.
Just under 10,000 tonnes of herring valued at 3 million euro on the pier was landed last year, with main export markets being Germany, Britain, Denmark and Nigeria.
The closure comes just weeks after the European Commission gave Mr Creed’s department three months to conduct an inquiry into its ability to apply EU fishing rules.
The Commission said the inquiry must evaluate Ireland’s “capacity to apply the rules” which govern the management of fish catches within EU waters, and said its request arose from “the severe and significant weaknesses” detected in the Irish control system during an audit carried out in March 2018 at Killybegs, Co Donegal.
Officials had identified shortcomings in the weighing of catches of pelagic fish, such as mackerel and herring, and issues related to “underreporting of catches of these species”.
The closure affects several dozen vessels from Killybegs, Co Donegal down to Rossaveal, Co Galway and the Cork and Kerry ports of Castletownbere and Dingle, are licensed for the fishery, most of which is exported.
Ironically, a small boat herring fishery, known as the “sentinel “fishery for vessels up to 17 metres in length, maybe hit by a stock collapse it did not cause.
The “sentinel” fishery begins in November from Dunmore East, Co Waterford, and provides a vital source of income to smaller vessels, according to Mr Hugo Boyle of the Irish South and East Fish Producers’ organisation.
Herring has historically played a key role in the economic development of many European coastal states, from Norway, Iceland and Denmark to Britain, where battles were fought in the 17th century between Dutch and English fleets over access to herring shoals.
The fishery has gone through cyclical downturns, and when traditional markets for salted and barrelled herring and fresh fish declined, new markets in frozen fish and in herring roe exported to Japan were developed. In the 1990s, markets for herring collapsed, causing a new crisis.
A “rebuilding plan” was introduced last year by the Celtic Sea herring management advisory committee, and a fisheries improvement plan had been drawn up in collaboration with the Marine Institute.