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Mixed Reaction to EU-Norway Fish Deal

29th March 2023
Irish fishing industry executives in Brussels  (from left to right) - IFPEA's Brendan Byrne, Patrick Murphy of the ISWFPO Patrick-Murphy and IFPO's Aodh-O'Donnell
Irish fishing industry executives in Brussels (from left to right) - IFPEA's Brendan Byrne, Patrick Murphy of the ISWFPO Patrick-Murphy and IFPO's Aodh-O'Donnell

Irish fishing industry leaders have given a mixed reaction to the conclusion of a fisheries deal between the EU and Norway earlier this month.

Norway, a non-EU member, “still secured more out of the deal than Ireland”, Irish Fish Producers’ Organisation (IFPO) chief executive Aodh O’Donnell said.

“The strongest possible one for our fishers” was how Ireland’s marine minister Charlie McConalogue described the final deal concluded on March 17th. He paid tribute to the role of Irish producer organisation representatives in ensuring this.

McConalogue said he was “particularly satisfied that in relation to blue whiting, Ireland was able to secure a 33% reduction in the traditional level of Norwegian access to EU waters from 68% to 45%”, along with Norway’s “complete exclusion” from the blue whiting fishery in the Irish Box off the north-west Irish coast.

The minister said that he was “able to maintain the principle that Ireland's contribution to the EU quota transfer to Norway would be capped at 4% and, as importantly, established for the first time that Ireland would be directly compensated with additional quota by other member states for transfers and access provisions”.

“I was able to secure an additional 4,820 tonnes of blue whiting for the Irish fleets,” he said, adding that scientists advised that the stock was in “good shape”.

Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation chief executive Sean O’Donoghue said the KFO had two key priorities since the negotiations between the EU and Norway began last October.

“The first was that there was to be no access to the Irish Box unless it was paid for in blue whiting. The second was that the transfer of blue whiting from the EU to Norway in the balance be kept at a minimum – circa 4%,” he said.

“Both were achieved in the final agreement. Unfortunately, a new dimension was tabled late in the day in terms of 15% access to Atlanto-Scandian herring, which is rejected. We will have to see how this can be rectified going forward,” O’Donoghue warned.

“Norway’s gains under their latest EU deal allows them to catch 4.5 times our blue whiting quota in our own EEZ,” the IFPO and Irish Fish Processors and Exporters Association (IFPEA) said.

“Norway have been allocated an extra 36,000MT of blue whiting in the Irish EEZ, compared to just 4,800MT extra blue whiting for Ireland,” O Donnell said for the IFPO.

“Norway, a non-EU member still secured more out of the deal than Ireland. They can now catch 224,000 metric tonnes (MT) of blue whiting, west of Ireland, whereas we can catch a maximum of 52,000MT in our own waters,”he said.

“In return, Ireland gets just over 258MT of Arctic Cod and access to Norwegian waters to fish 2,640 tonnes of Atlanto- Scandian herring,” O’Donnell said.

“In addition, Ireland benefits from 4,800MT of blue whiting from other member states. This transfer includes a paltry volume of 2,400MT in lieu of Norway having access to the Irish EEZ - outside the Irish Box - to catch an additional 36,000MT of blue whiting,”he said.

“If you do the sums, you can see they can catch almost five times more blue whiting in Irish waters than we can. This last-minute St Patrick’s Day deal does nothing to address Ireland’s unfair share of EU fishing quotas and rights,”he said.

O’Donnell said the industry counted it as “a win” that the EU refused to grant Norway its “unreasonable request for unfettered fishing rights inside the Irish Box”.

“We feel this was due to intense joint lobbying efforts with other fishing organisations. Our industry united as never before to make our voice heard and we are proud of what we achieved together. We feel there has been a discernible shift in attitude at both Dept of the Marine and EU level towards our fishing industry,”he said.

Brendan Byrne of the Irish Fish Processors and Exporters Association (IFPEA) said Brexit was part of the problem leading to this latest deal.

“After Brexit, Norway was excluded from British waters. That displacement brought them into Irish waters to fish their blue whiting quota. Ireland had already donated 40% of the EU’s quota allocation to Britain, so were already the biggest losers post-Brexit. Norway’s increased fishing off our coast thus exacerbated an already grave situation,” Byrne said.

“The Irish Government and the EU have taken too much from Ireland for too long in fishing, so that others can benefit. This has led to the total decline of our industry, while countries like Norway see massive growth in their seafood sector,” Byrne said.

O’Donnell added that “ Ireland must not be forced to pay because Norway was displaced by Britain, under Brexit”.

“We must not allow Ireland to be the whipping boy anymore. Our challenge now is to keep collaborating cohesively as an industry. We will keep making our voice heard at home and in Europe until we achieve positive growth for the fishing and seafood industry,” he said.

Irish South and West Fish Producers’ (IS&WFPO) chief executive Patrick Murphy pointed out that Ireland was, through the EU, granting access to Norwegian boats to come and catch “hundreds of thousands of tonnes of blue whiting in waters within Ireland’s Exclusive Economic Zone whereby Norway’s total catch of blue whiting in these waters vastly exceeds Ireland’s entitlement to catch fish stocks of all species in Irish waters”.

Murphy said McConalogue should initiate a public consultation to “amend and change his department’s current policy on herring in Area 6a and immediately embark upon a review of policy for blue whiting”.

Boats registered in the polyvalent segment of the Irish fleet are “limited to 9% of Ireland’s total allocation of blue whiting with qualified boats having to enter a lottery so that 12 boats can be allowed partake in the fishery while the 23 boats registered in the RSW-pelagic segment of the fleet are rewarded with 91% of Ireland’s national allocation”, Murphy said.

Murphy said he had received confirmation from McConalogue that the minister has “declined to embark upon any review of blue whiting policy and has refused to review and balance the allocation of this national quota between the polyvalent and RSW-pelagic segments of the Irish fleet”

He said that this was “despite the very significant increase of 81% in Ireland’s allocation for 2023 and the fact that polyvalent segment boats entitled to partake in the blue whiting fishery are struggling to make a living”.

Published in Fishing Team

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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.


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