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Fisheries Negotiations Outcome ‘Acceptable’ but Concerns on South Coast

13th December 2023
The deal includes an additional mackerel quota for the Irish fishing industry, an important species for the Donegal fleet
The deal includes an additional mackerel quota for the Irish fishing industry, an important species for the Donegal fleet at Killybegs

The outcome of the annual EU Fisheries Council quota negotiations has been described as “acceptable” but with “much more left to do”.

This is the view of the Killybegs Fishermen’s Association after the announcement by Marine Minister Charlie McConalogue of gains for Ireland, particularly in additional mackerel, an important species for the Donegal fleet.

However, fishermen on the South Coast will not be happy with reductions and by-catches for whitefish in the Celtic Sea: Cod, Haddock, Whiting and Pollock.

The South East Fish Producers’ Organisation had warned before the negotiations that such reduction would have serious consequences for the fleet and coastal communities dependent on fishing.

The CEO of the Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation, Seán O’Donoghue,The CEO of the Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation, Seán O’Donoghue

The CEO of the Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation, Seán O’Donoghue, at the talks in Brussels for the last time before he retires from his post at the end of this month, says he is “pleased that the talks regained some of their raison d'être.”

This refers to his prediction before the talks that, with decisions on many TACs (Total Allowable Catches) and quotas between Norway and the UK having concluded ahead of the Council Meeting, Ireland could achieve more. Over the last three years, he had complained that because this situation was done in reverse, the annual fisheries negotiations had become irrelevant.

“We’ve secured an increase in one of our key stocks, mackerel and while it’s wholly merited and overdue, it doesn’t undo the woeful impact which Brexit has had on our pelagic fisheries with a hit of up to 25% on our bottom line on this stock alone. We’ll therefore continue our campaign of ‘burden sharing’ with gusto whereby all coastal member states share the pain of Brexit equally and proportionally.

“For pelagic stocks, the outcome is predominantly favourable notwithstanding the 9% reduction in mackerel when the Brexit effect is taken into account. We’ve secured a 23% increase in blue whiting, a 20% increase in boarfish, a 20% increase in North West herring, a 17% increase in albacore tuna and finally a 23% reduction in Atlanto Scandia herring. “The Commission has also provided assurance that the issue of the massive overfishing of mackerel by Norway and the Faroes in the Northeast Atlantic which is jeopardising the sustainable management of the stock is a priority. I’ve put on record that we are already paying the price with a 5% cut for 2024 instead of a 10-20% increase had the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) advice been followed in recent years.

“We’ve reached agreement on a TAC for cod in the North West area 6a for the first time since 2011 as well as reductions in the balance transfer and access for blue whiting in the EU/Norway agreement. For the most part, the news is also positive for whitefish stocks in the North West with a very significant increase of just over 60 % in haddock in 6a.

“Similarly, the Commission has committed to a change in horse mackerel which will happen if the benchmark for the stock for the first quarter of 2024 is significantly revised. The Commission will have to negotiate directly with the UK on this issue.

“The reductions and by-catches for certain whitefish in the Celtic Sea – off the South Coast – namely cod, haddock and whiting as well as pollock in the South and Northwest is a significant concern and will undoubtedly have socio-economic consequences further down the road.

“As expected and in an arrangement which dates back to 1983, ‘The Hague Preferences’ were delivered - which see Ireland getting elevated quotas for a number of key species.

I would also like to acknowledge the commitment and efforts of Minister McConalogue and his officials, and while there’s a long way to go to regain the fish that we want, this does represent a positive step.

Aodh O'Donnell, CEO of the Irish Fish Producers' OrganisationAodh O'Donnell, CEO of the Irish Fish Producers' Organisation

Aodh O'Donnell, CEO of the Irish Fish Producers' Organisation, commented on the Council outcome: "While the commitment of Minister McConalogue and his team in the December Council process is fully acknowledged, the level of outcomes for Ireland are driven by a historical lack of fair opportunity under the Common Fisheries Policy. We have been locked into this CFP for the last 40 years. Ireland must remain focused on reversing the ongoing decline of the sector that was exacerbated when 40% of the quota given to the UK post-Brexit came from Ireland. 

"Representative bodies must unite further and work collaboratively with the Department to develop a strategy to renew the sector. This must secure the transfer back to Ireland of fishing opportunities which were given away in the Trade and Cooperation Agreement that resulted from Brexit. The Council agreement of a transfer of some mackerel to Ireland from Denmark is a vital first step in mitigating a severe quota cut of 9% . This is a paradigm of what can be achieved to turn the tide.

Published in Fishing
Tom MacSweeney

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Tom MacSweeney

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Tom MacSweeney writes a column for He is former RTE Marine Correspondent/Presenter of Seascapes and now has a monthly Podcast on the Community Radio Network and Podcast services

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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