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Ireland Says EU "At Odds With Best Practice" If No Legislative Changes to Common Fisheries Policy

12th November 2022
Ireland’s submission to Brussels says there is a “compelling case” for a deeper review of the CFP
Ireland’s submission to Brussels says there is a “compelling case” for a deeper review of the CFP

Ireland has said that the European Commission will be “at odds with best practice” if it fails to make legislative changes to its Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).

Ireland’s submission to Brussels says there is a “compelling case” for a deeper review of the CFP, given the “urgent need for legislative change” due to a number of “critical” challenges.

The policy, which is the subject of a review every ten years, is due for renewal next year.

However, EU Commissioner for Fisheries Virginijus Sinkevičius warned he was taking a “cautious approach” to the review when he visited Ireland last September – while expressing sympathy to the Irish fishing industry for the large burden borne by Ireland as a result of the Brexit deal.

“ I cannot promise we will be reopening the CFP,” he said.

Critical challenges identified in Ireland’s submission to Brussels include: the impact of Brexit; the energy crisis and other emergencies confronting the European seafood sector; food security; climate change; and biodiversity loss.

Other challenges include the drive for increased marine protected area (MPAs); the growth and intended scale of offshore renewable energy (ORE) development; structural aid, and measures necessary to address climate change and associated pressures on the marine environment; and agreements with third countries.

The report takes issue with the fact that the European Commission has “intimated” that it does not intend to introduce any legislative changes to the CFP on this occasion.

It argues that reports compiled by the European Commission as part of the 10- year review cycle in 1992, 2002 and 2012 were accompanied by reforms of the CFP – “including the necessary legislative changes”.

“It is the view of this review group that it is imperative, on this occasion too, that the Commission should introduce some legislative changes on foot of its report,”it says, acknowledging that this will require agreement by the European Council and the European Parliament.

Ireland’s submission says that Brexit and the associated Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) represent “the most important changes to the CFP since its inception”.

It says that the Scientific Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries estimates that Ireland contributed 34% by volume and 40% by value of the real economic cost of fish transfers to Britain.

“ The next nearest member state in contribution terms, Germany, contributed just 24% by volume and 21% by value,” it says.

“ In the case of western mackerel alone, Ireland’s sacrifice accounts for 51% of the total Brexit transfers,” it says.

Ireland’s CFP review group contends that the implications of all major policy changes must be accompanied by a “publicly available socio-economic impact assessment”.

“Such measures should be designed to lessen the socioeconomic impact on those who depend on fishing activities, wherever they operate within the EU,”it points out.

It says the data collection regime should be strengthened to ensure adequate data is collected to enable socio economic impact assessments.

It also says that where the relative stability of fishing activities is altered, as has been the case with Brexit, measures should be taken to redress any imbalance through burden sharing.

It identifies measures that can be used to lessen the socio-economic impact of any major changes to the CFP.

These include strengthening the EU’s position in external fisheries agreements and trade deals; facilitated quota swaps; voluntary schemes to redistribute unused quota; and industry schemes to maintain employment and minimise socio economic impacts, it says.

The report recommends that in future negotiations with Norway, the Faroe Islands, Iceland and the UK, the EU must ensure that it; i) receives a fair share of the mackerel TAC, ii) receives an increased share of blue whiting total allowable catch; and iii) reduces any transfer of blue whiting to Norway.

It says Ireland’s Hague Preferences for existing stocks should be revised upwards, and Hague Preferences for additional critical stocks should be introduced to fully redress the imbalance caused by Brexit.

It says that in the case of western mackerel, Ireland’s Hague Preference should be increased by an amount equivalent to that previously available to Britain, in both the North Sea and Western Waters components of this stock.

On the environment and MPAs, it says that the “key tensions between food security and environmental conservation must be addressed” at EU level.

It says elements of the CFP “have the effect of impeding member states’ ability to meet environmental obligations” and should be amended.

It also says the EU should “integrate the scientific information on climate impacts into our collective management of marine resources”.

The 31-page report, commissioned by Ireland’s marine minister Charlie McConalogue, was compiled by a group chaired by former secretary general of the Department of Agriculture John Malone.

The group’s steering committee involved former Marine Institute and Environmental Protection Agency director Micheál Ó Cinnéide and former BIM director Donal Maguire.

It also involved representatives of fish producer organisations, the National Inshore Fisheries Forum, the aquaculture industry, co-ops, the seafood processing industry and representatives of environmental NGOs.

The full report can be viewed here

Published in Fishing
Lorna Siggins

About The Author

Lorna Siggins

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Lorna Siggins is a print and radio reporter, and a former Irish Times western correspondent. She is the author of Search and Rescue: True stories of Irish Air-Sea Rescues and the Loss of R116 (2022); Everest Callling (1994) on the first Irish Everest expedition; Mayday! Mayday! (2004); and Once Upon a Time in the West: the Corrib gas controversy (2010). She is also co-producer with Sarah Blake of the Doc on One "Miracle in Galway Bay" which recently won a Celtic Media Award

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Irish Fishing industry 

The Irish Commercial Fishing Industry employs around 11,000 people in fishing, processing and ancillary services such as sales and marketing. The industry is worth about €1.22 billion annually to the Irish economy. Irish fisheries products are exported all over the world as far as Africa, Japan and China.

FAQs

Over 16,000 people are employed directly or indirectly around the coast, working on over 2,000 registered fishing vessels, in over 160 seafood processing businesses and in 278 aquaculture production units, according to the State's sea fisheries development body Bord Iascaigh Mhara (BIM).

All activities that are concerned with growing, catching, processing or transporting fish are part of the commercial fishing industry, the development of which is overseen by BIM. Recreational fishing, as in angling at sea or inland, is the responsibility of Inland Fisheries Ireland.

The Irish fishing industry is valued at 1.22 billion euro in gross domestic product (GDP), according to 2019 figures issued by BIM. Only 179 of Ireland's 2,000 vessels are over 18 metres in length. Where does Irish commercially caught fish come from? Irish fish and shellfish is caught or cultivated within the 200-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ), but Irish fishing grounds are part of the common EU "blue" pond. Commercial fishing is regulated under the terms of the EU Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), initiated in 1983 and with ten-yearly reviews.

The total value of seafood landed into Irish ports was 424 million euro in 2019, according to BIM. High value landings identified in 2019 were haddock, hake, monkfish and megrim. Irish vessels also land into foreign ports, while non-Irish vessels land into Irish ports, principally Castletownbere, Co Cork, and Killybegs, Co Donegal.

There are a number of different methods for catching fish, with technological advances meaning skippers have detailed real time information at their disposal. Fisheries are classified as inshore, midwater, pelagic or deep water. Inshore targets species close to shore and in depths of up to 200 metres, and may include trawling and gillnetting and long-lining. Trawling is regarded as "active", while "passive" or less environmentally harmful fishing methods include use of gill nets, long lines, traps and pots. Pelagic fisheries focus on species which swim close to the surface and up to depths of 200 metres, including migratory mackerel, and tuna, and methods for catching include pair trawling, purse seining, trolling and longlining. Midwater fisheries target species at depths of around 200 metres, using trawling, longlining and jigging. Deepwater fisheries mainly use trawling for species which are found at depths of over 600 metres.

There are several segments for different catching methods in the registered Irish fleet – the largest segment being polyvalent or multi-purpose vessels using several types of gear which may be active and passive. The polyvalent segment ranges from small inshore vessels engaged in netting and potting to medium and larger vessels targeting whitefish, pelagic (herring, mackerel, horse mackerel and blue whiting) species and bivalve molluscs. The refrigerated seawater (RSW) pelagic segment is engaged mainly in fishing for herring, mackerel, horse mackerel and blue whiting only. The beam trawling segment focuses on flatfish such as sole and plaice. The aquaculture segment is exclusively for managing, developing and servicing fish farming areas and can collect spat from wild mussel stocks.

The top 20 species landed by value in 2019 were mackerel (78 million euro); Dublin Bay prawn (59 million euro); horse mackerel (17 million euro); monkfish (17 million euro); brown crab (16 million euro); hake (11 million euro); blue whiting (10 million euro); megrim (10 million euro); haddock (9 million euro); tuna (7 million euro); scallop (6 million euro); whelk (5 million euro); whiting (4 million euro); sprat (3 million euro); herring (3 million euro); lobster (2 million euro); turbot (2 million euro); cod (2 million euro); boarfish (2 million euro).

Ireland has approximately 220 million acres of marine territory, rich in marine biodiversity. A marine biodiversity scheme under Ireland's operational programme, which is co-funded by the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund and the Government, aims to reduce the impact of fisheries and aquaculture on the marine environment, including avoidance and reduction of unwanted catch.

EU fisheries ministers hold an annual pre-Christmas council in Brussels to decide on total allowable catches and quotas for the following year. This is based on advice from scientific bodies such as the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea. In Ireland's case, the State's Marine Institute publishes an annual "stock book" which provides the most up to date stock status and scientific advice on over 60 fish stocks exploited by the Irish fleet. Total allowable catches are supplemented by various technical measures to control effort, such as the size of net mesh for various species.

The west Cork harbour of Castletownbere is Ireland's biggest whitefish port. Killybegs, Co Donegal is the most important port for pelagic (herring, mackerel, blue whiting) landings. Fish are also landed into Dingle, Co Kerry, Rossaveal, Co Galway, Howth, Co Dublin and Dunmore East, Co Waterford, Union Hall, Co Cork, Greencastle, Co Donegal, and Clogherhead, Co Louth. The busiest Northern Irish ports are Portavogie, Ardglass and Kilkeel, Co Down.

Yes, EU quotas are allocated to other fleets within the Irish EEZ, and Ireland has long been a transhipment point for fish caught by the Spanish whitefish fleet in particular. Dingle, Co Kerry has seen an increase in foreign landings, as has Castletownbere. The west Cork port recorded foreign landings of 36 million euro or 48 per cent in 2019, and has long been nicknamed the "peseta" port, due to the presence of Spanish-owned transhipment plant, Eiranova, on Dinish island.

Most fish and shellfish caught or cultivated in Irish waters is for the export market, and this was hit hard from the early stages of this year's Covid-19 pandemic. The EU, Asia and Britain are the main export markets, while the middle Eastern market is also developing and the African market has seen a fall in value and volume, according to figures for 2019 issued by BIM.

Fish was once a penitential food, eaten for religious reasons every Friday. BIM has worked hard over several decades to develop its appeal. Ireland is not like Spain – our land is too good to transform us into a nation of fish eaters, but the obvious health benefits are seeing a growth in demand. Seafood retail sales rose by one per cent in 2019 to 300 million euro. Salmon and cod remain the most popular species, while BIM reports an increase in sales of haddock, trout and the pangasius or freshwater catfish which is cultivated primarily in Vietnam and Cambodia and imported by supermarkets here.

The EU's Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), initiated in 1983, pooled marine resources – with Ireland having some of the richest grounds and one of the largest sea areas at the time, but only receiving four per cent of allocated catch by a quota system. A system known as the "Hague Preferences" did recognise the need to safeguard the particular needs of regions where local populations are especially dependent on fisheries and related activities. The State's Sea Fisheries Protection Authority, based in Clonakilty, Co Cork, works with the Naval Service on administering the EU CFP. The Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine and Department of Transport regulate licensing and training requirements, while the Marine Survey Office is responsible for the implementation of all national and international legislation in relation to safety of shipping and the prevention of pollution.

Yes, a range of certificates of competency are required for skippers and crew. Training is the remit of BIM, which runs two national fisheries colleges at Greencastle, Co Donegal and Castletownbere, Co Cork. There have been calls for the colleges to be incorporated into the third-level structure of education, with qualifications recognised as such.

Safety is always an issue, in spite of technological improvements, as fishing is a hazardous occupation and climate change is having its impact on the severity of storms at sea. Fishing skippers and crews are required to hold a number of certificates of competency, including safety and navigation, and wearing of personal flotation devices is a legal requirement. Accidents come under the remit of the Marine Casualty Investigation Board, and the Health and Safety Authority. The MCIB does not find fault or blame, but will make recommendations to the Minister for Transport to avoid a recurrence of incidents.

Fish are part of a marine ecosystem and an integral part of the marine food web. Changing climate is having a negative impact on the health of the oceans, and there have been more frequent reports of warmer water species being caught further and further north in Irish waters.

Brexit, Covid 19, EU policies and safety – Britain is a key market for Irish seafood, and 38 per cent of the Irish catch is taken from the waters around its coast. Ireland's top two species – mackerel and prawns - are 60 per cent and 40 per cent, respectively, dependent on British waters. Also, there are serious fears within the Irish industry about the impact of EU vessels, should they be expelled from British waters, opting to focus even more efforts on Ireland's rich marine resource. Covid-19 has forced closure of international seafood markets, with high value fish sold to restaurants taking a large hit. A temporary tie-up support scheme for whitefish vessels introduced for the summer of 2020 was condemned by industry organisations as "designed to fail".

Sources: Bord Iascaigh Mhara, Marine Institute, Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine, Department of Transport © Afloat 2020