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The Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation (KFO) has called on Marine Minister Charlie McConalogue to distribute the additional mackerel quota negotiated at the December Fisheries Council as a matter of urgency.

While the representative body said it was “highly appreciative” of the minister’s efforts in December, it also noted that, some three months into 2024, the benefits have not yet been enjoyed by pelagic fishing vessel owners who lost up to a quarter of their bottom line following the post-Brexit quota transfer.

The December deal was welcomed at the time as a “small victory” in reversing those cuts, but now the KFO says that “the reluctance to allocate and thereby activate this quota during the early months of the year when mackerel swim close to Ireland and prices are at their highest has effectively turned this into an ‘own goal’”.

Dominic Rihan, chief executive of the KFO said: “There are compelling reasons why we believe this additional mackerel quota should be immediately assigned to the pelagic vessel owners in line with the agreed ministerial policy.

“If this mackerel is allocated later in the year, vessels will have no choice than to travel to the fishing grounds around Shetland and further north incurring high operational costs in terms of fuel to catch what at that stage would be a small volume of mackerel.”

The KFO adds that for many of its members, the additional quota “is the difference between them returning a profit or not in 2024”.

As reported in January, Minister McConalogue was criticised for failing to accept an offer by Denmark to resolve a three-year row with Ireland over mackerel that was made nearly three months before the December deal.

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Minister for Marine Charlie McConalogue did not pick up on an offer by Denmark to resolve a three-year row with Ireland over mackerel, which could have been worth almost 10 million euro.

The Sunday Independent reports that a letter sent to McConalogue by Danish Minister for Fisheries Jacob Jensen last September offered a transfer of 3,000 tonnes of mackerel to Ireland for two years.

The letter dated September 25th 2023, obtained by The Skipper magazine and seen by The Sunday Independent, Jensen says the European Commission favoured Ireland and Denmark resolving their differences together, and this transfer would be made “without prejudice” to a long-term solution to the dispute.

The row dates back to Brexit, when Ireland lost substantial access to British waters, bearing the brunt among EU member states of transfer of prawn and mackerel quotas back to Britain.

This had a knock-on negative impact on annual EU-Norway deals on migratory stocks, principally mackerel.

In 2021, Denmark applied to the EU to transfer an “historical” mackerel quota amounting to 12,000 tonnes and formerly caught by its vessels in Norwegian waters into western, in EU waters. This transfer would be at the expense of Ireland and other EU member states.

Irish Fish Processors and Exporters’ Association chief executive Brendan Byrne told The Sunday Independent he was “shocked” as he had no knowledge of the Danish minister’s letter.

Irish Fish Processors and Exporters’ Association chief executive Brendan ByrneIrish Fish Processors and Exporters’ Association chief executive Brendan Byrne 

The industry has regular liaison meetings with McConalogue’s officials and “the letter was never mentioned”, he said.

“A transfer of 3,000 tonnes of mackerel from Denmark to us over two years would be worth over 9.7 million euro to the Irish industry, based on the current price for mackerel of 1620 euro a tonne,”Byrne calculated.

Irish South and West Fish Producers’ Organisation chief executive Patrick Murphy said McConalogue should “reflect on his position” and said he had misled the Irish industry by “failing to tell us about this offer”.

Irish South and West Fish Producers’ Organisation chief executive Patrick MurphyIrish South and West Fish Producers’ Organisation chief executive Patrick Murphy

“There are small inshore boats seeking to fish for mackerel by rod and line who are restricted to 400 tonnes a year – they could have done with some of this extra fish, as could larger boats down the coastline,”Murphy said.

At the EU’s December fisheries council, a permanent deal was agreed in Denmark’s favour with a fraction of the share going to Ireland.

McConalogue hailed the December outcome as a “win-back” of quota worth 3 million euro.

“It appears that the minister just sought to ensure that the Donegal mackerel fleet had a sufficient share, preserving the status quota and failing to win back something that would have compensated us all for the Brexit losses,” Murphy said.

The newspaper quotes the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine as stating that “Ireland did not accept Denmark’s proposal of a once-off transfer of mackerel quota in September 2023, as the solution proposed did not reflect the European Commission’s legal analysis which confirmed that this quota originated in the western waters mackerel quota area”.

“The solution negotiated by Minister McConalogue therefore results in a permanent allocation of additional mackerel quota for the Irish fleet, rather than a once-off transfer of quota,” the department said.

Read The Sunday Independent here

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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.

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Minister for the Marine Charlie McConalogue T.D. has successfully secured an increased Mackerel quota share for the Irish fishing fleet.

Following intensive engagement at the EU Fisheries Council of Ministers, which began on Sunday, Minister McConalogue successfully negotiated a permanent allocation of additional Mackerel quota for the Irish fleet:-

“This issue centred on the allocation and distribution of an EU mackerel quota historically linked to an agreement with Norway. This quota has been unallocated for the past two years and I was determined to reach a resolution on this issue. Mackerel is Ireland’s most important pelagic stock and the cuts due to the quota transfers under the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement significantly impacted our fleet. This new, permanent allocation of Mackerel quota, while not replacing all of the quota we have lost, will be worth approximately €3 million annually for Ireland’s fishers.”

This year, the EU’s negotiations with the UK and Norway concluded in advance of the December Council. This means there will be no need for provisional Total Allowable Catches (TACs) and quotas as the final, full-year quotas will apply from 1 January 2024.

Minister McConalogue said:- “Most of Ireland’s commercial fish stocks are now shared with the UK, and the satisfactory conclusion of the bilateral EU-UK negotiations will provide much-needed stability for our fishers. The final outcomes represent a balanced result overall for the key fish quotas for Ireland. We have increases for a number of our important commercial stocks including Nephrops in the Porcupine Bank, Celtic Sea Monkfish and Megrim and North-west Haddock and Whiting. Restricted, by-catch only TACs have been set for vulnerable stocks to help them recover.”

Commenting on the outcome of the EU-Norway bilateral agreement, the Minister said: “I welcome the continuing downward trend in the level of Blue Whiting used in the EU’s quota transfer to Norway as well as the level of Norway’s access to fish Blue Whiting in European waters, particularly those waters west of Ireland. Ireland’s contribution to the Blue Whiting transfer for 2024 is less than the 4% cap I established in previous years. In addition, the traditional level of Norwegian access to EU waters is also reduced to approximately 41% for 2024.”

“The timely conclusion of the EU’s negotiations with Third Countries will provide certainty for our fishers and allow them to plan their activities for the year ahead. I would like to thank Fishing Organisation representatives for their engagement and work throughout this process as well as the long hours and work of my team in securing this positive outcome for Irish fishers for the year ahead,” concluded Minster McConalogue.

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Irish pelagic fishers and processors are joining an international scientific initiative to provide vital information which helps inform the management of Northeast Atlantic mackerel, one of Ireland’s most valuable species.

BIM is working in collaboration with the Marine Institute and pelagic fishers and processors to install mackerel scanners in processing plants in Killybegs, Co Donegal.

Two units have been installed with further units to be fitted in factories over the next two years, with grant aid from the European Maritime, Fisheries and Aquaculture Fund (EMFAF).

“Mackerel remains Ireland’s most valuable wild caught export, valued at €95m in 2022,” said Dr Michael Gallagher, pelagic sector manager with BIM. “Given the importance of mackerel to the Irish seafood industry, it is critical that we collaborate to collect the best quality data for this valuable resource.

“BIM and the Marine Institute work closely together and we saw a real opportunity to reach out to fishers and processors to progress this initiative. Dr Edward Farrell of the Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation (KFO) has also played a central role in coordinating the installation and set-up of the scanners.”

Dr Andrew Campbell, pelagic fisheries team lead at the Marine Institute highlighted the importance of robust scientific data.

“In addition to annual scientific surveys and the triennial mackerel egg survey, tag-return data from this type of study also yields invaluable stock structure and age composition insights,” Dr Campbell said. “This data feeds into assessments to allow meaningful catch limits to be set for sustainable management.”

Two tagging units installed in Killybegs at the end of last year are already capturing important data. “In total, 66 tagged fish have been detected to date and we are hopeful that more valuable tag return data will be generated from the Irish mackerel fishery as more scanning units are installed in cooperation with the pelagic industry,” Dr Campbell added.

Up to 2011, mackerel were tagged by inserting small metal tags into the abdomen of the fish before release, which were then picked up by metal detectors at processing plants when the tagged fish were caught. This labor-intensive, manual process meant workers had to sift through the mackerel to pick out the tagged fish each time they heard the metal detector ping on processing lines.

"The international tagging programme has actually been in operation for over 55 years,” said Dr Edward Farrell, KFO’s chief scientific and sustainability officer. “Over 40,000 fish have been tagged annually, which is done simply by jigging for mackerel on surveys in the North Sea and off the west coast of Ireland and west of Scotland.

“In 2011, radio frequency Iidentification (RFID) replaced these metal tags and now when the tagged fish pass through the scanners in processing plants, valuable data is automatically collected without any need to touch the fish.”

BIM is hosting a pelagic information session on 29 September at the KFO offices in Killybegs where this project and other topics will be shared. To register for this in-person and online event, visit the Eventbrite page HERE.

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At the EU Agriculture and Fisheries Council in Luxembourg on Monday (26 June), Ireland’s Marine Minister highlighted the need to protect the EU’s mackerel quota in the face of external threats from third countries.

Minister Charlie McConalogue said: “At council, fisheries ministers held an initial discussion on the preparation for the negotiations on setting quotas for 2024. I set out clearly Ireland’s priorities, including the need for action to prevent the unsustainable actions of other coastal states, outside of the EU, diluting the EU’s mackerel quota share.”

Fisheries ministers also discussed the conclusions on the European Commission’s Fisheries Policy Package, which was published in February.

Minister McConalogue acknowledged the considerable progress that has been achieved to date through the framework of the Common Fisheries Policy and the key role played by stakeholders in this regard.

However, the minister also highlighted the need to take account of the significant changes over the past number of years, especially Brexit.

“The package did not, in my view, address the real and detrimental impact of Brexit on Irish fishers in particular,” he said. “Neither did it address the new reality that the majority of EU fishing opportunities are determined by annual negotiations with third parties.”

The minister added: “At my insistence, the conclusions now include a demand that the [European] Commission fully analyse and report on the impacts of quota transfers, as well as the need to develop a comprehensive strategy for relations with third countries. This demand was supported by the majority of member states.”

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At just €1.3bn, the value of the entire Irish seafood sector is lower than the consolidated turnover of just one large Dutch seafood business at €1.4bn. That’s according to the chief executive of the Irish Fish Producers Organisation (IFPO), Aodh O Donnell.

O Donnell says the latest BIM figures show how badly Irish catches have fallen and says the seafood sector here is at a crossroads. “Non-EU member Norway has a similar population to Ireland but enjoys seafood exports 20 times greater than us. We are being starved of access to our own marine resources. It’s time for the Irish Government and the EU to change this and deliver for Ireland’s seafood sector.”

Some Non-EU Coastal States in Western Europe are taking advantage of the flawed negotiation process and fishing an unfair share of pelagic species like Mackerel and Blue Whiting claims O Donnell. The Coastal States include Norway, the Faroe Islands, Iceland, Greenland and – since Brexit – the UK. O Donnell says Norway and the Faroes have a record of “setting themselves inflated unilateral quotas in non-compliance with scientific advice. This seriously threatens the health of these economically critical stocks.”

These Coastal States enter negotiations with the EU every year, but the flawed system allows them to avoid committing to any sharing agreements. For example, the mackerel coastal sharing consultations have again failed to deliver by the March target date. This suits Norway, Faroe Islands, and Iceland, because they are not bound by any multilateral agreed measures at the Coastal States. They are then free to fix quotas unilaterally at whatever level their industry wants.”

“Norway, in particular, refuses to allow the Coastal States process to come in under the North East Atlantic Fisheries Organisation (NEAFC), which is based in London. Within NEAFC, agreements would be bound by more stringent rules and rights. More crucially, they would also be bound by the obligations and potential sanctions of a Regional Fisheries Management Organisation. “

“Equally guilty in this respect is Faroe Islands. Worse still, the Russian Federation’s fisheries in the North East Atlantic still appears to be protected and encouraged by Norway in all Coastal States consultations.”

O Donnell says it’s time for the EU to act more forcefully in these negotiations to protect the interests of member states like Ireland. “The EU has an impressive Coastal States negotiating team, but they need a stronger political mandate to achieve a better outcome for EU members. In addition, the process needs a more sustained focus and earlier copper fastening on all three separate strands: TAC Setting, Sharing Arrangements, and Access.”

“Blue whiting remains the major currency and bargaining chip in negotiations with Norway. Uniquely, Norway needs to access the EU/Irish EEZ to catch their enormous Blue Whiting quota because it is now denied access to the UK waters. Norway’s catches are mainly taken in the Irish EEZ with a total share reported catches exceeding 25 %. At the same time, Ireland’s catch share of blue whiting in our own EEZ is just 3 %. This is ridiculously low given that the stock spawns primarily in waters to the West of Ireland.”

O Donnell says the IFPO is of the firm view that the EU should make any access to its waters for mackerel and blue whiting conditional on quota sharing arrangements with Coastal States. The EU should make clear in those discussions that the Commission will not agree “mutual access” on blue whiting to Norway, until Norway agrees a quota sharing arrangement for all pelagic stocks.

This access to the Irish EEZ must be conditional on agreement that ensures that unilateral quotas are not set for any pelagic species. Access to the 200-mile EEZ for Blue Whiting must be conditional on overall sharing agreements and delivering a meaningful distribution to Irish fishermen. We cannot stand idly by as Ireland’s seafood industry dies while the sector flourishes in other EU and non-EU states. The time to act is now.

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Inshore fishers have expressed shock at the sudden closure of the hook and line fishery for mackerel due to an exhausted quota.

As the Times Ireland reports, the hook and line method used to catch the fish inshore has low environmental impact, as there is no risk of by-catch of dolphins and turtles and other marine mammals.

The growth of farmers’ markets has opened up new domestic opportunities to sell the highly prized migratory fish - which is in demand worldwide because of its rich oil content.

However, a number of skippers among up to 2,000 other vessels under 15 metres entitled to catch inshore mackerel were shocked to hear earlier this month (June) that the fishery has closed early.

“We were told our 400-tonne overall quota for the entire inshore fleet has expired,” Eamon Dixon of the Erris Inshore Fishermen’s Association in Mayo says.

“We had dozens of young lads working on this fishery up here for up to three months of the year, and it has been so valuable for this area,” Dixon explains.

Social Democrats TD Holly Cairns has called on Minister for Marine Charlie McConalogue to explain why over 98 per cent of Ireland’s overall quota of mackerel has been allocated to 49 larger Irish vessels – leaving less than a per cent for the inshore fleet.

National Inshore Fishermen’s Association (NIFA) secretary Alex Crowley said the popularity of line-caught mackerel had risen in recent years, taking pressure off shellfish stocks and at a time when the price of crab had fallen.

“Up to last year, there was a trip limit of 500 kg, but this was increased by the department to 750kg per trip which had made it viable,” he said.

“For remote communities like north Mayo, it is an opportunity and with such a low impact,” he said. “However, our own management regime is choking this fishery”.

Dixon and colleagues believe there should be no quota set for smaller vessels, as they pose no threat to supertrawlers – both Irish and international - following the mackerel shoals between Norway, Scotland and Ireland.

Mr McConalogue’s department said that when the 400-tonne limit was exceeded in the fishery in 2020 it was “unexpected”, as total landings for vessels under 15m had been below this until then.

“The 2021 fishery was closed by the minister on June 12th, when the Sea Fisheries Protection Authority (SFPA) advised the Department that the available quota had been caught and exceeded,”it said.

The policy for allocation of 400 tonne to smaller vessels had been set in 2010, amended in 2017, and the minister must be “satisfied that there is satisfactory evidence of changed circumstances to justify a policy review”, it said.

Any such review would require an assessment and full public consultation, the department said, and any increase for the inshore fleet would require that it be “taken from others who are already facing significant cuts” under the EU-UK Trade and Co-operation Agreement.

The Brexit TCA involves transferring 25 per cent of Ireland’s overall mackerel quota to Britain, the department pointed out.

Read more in The Times here

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The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Charlie McConalogue T.D., said that Norway unilaterally announced this morning that it would give itself a 55% increase in its share of the Mackerel Stock in 2021. In tonnage terms, this means an increase from 191,843 tonnes to 298,299 tonnes – an increase of 106,456 tonnes for 2021. The Norwegian decision seeks to increase its share of the Mackerel Stock from 22.5% to 35%.

Mackerel has been managed under a UN Coastal States Agreement that involved the EU, Norway and the Faroe Islands for the period 2014 to 2020. Iceland had refused to participate in the management agreement and the three parties set aside a share of the stock for it. In 2021, after Brexit and the UK departure from the EU, the new parties involved have not been able to put a new Coastal States Agreement on Mackerel in place.

Minister McConalogue said, “This declaration by Norway to hugely increase its fishery for mackerel is a direct threat to the sustainability of the mackerel fishery and the future of the Irish pelagic fishing industry. There is no justification for this unilateral, opportunistic and unsustainable move. This is all the more disappointing because it undermines the critically important arrangements for joint management of mackerel by the Coastal States under the UN structure. As the scientific advice sets the sustainable level of fishing each year on mackerel, an increase by Norway means either the stock is overfished or other parties must take a smaller share. Neither option is acceptable.”

The mackerel stock is a widely distributed, migratory fish that inhabits much of the north-eastern Atlantic shelf ranging from south of Ireland and the Bay of Biscay to north of Norway. It is fast swimming forming dense shoals when migrating from its spawning grounds to the south and west of Ireland and migrate to northern waters to feedThe mackerel stock is a widely distributed, migratory fish that inhabits much of the north-eastern Atlantic shelf ranging from south of Ireland and the Bay of Biscay to north of Norway. It is fast swimming forming dense shoals when migrating from its spawning grounds to the south and west of Ireland and migrate to northern waters to feed

Under the EU /UK Trade and Co-operation Agreement, there was a 26% reduction in our mackerel quota within the EU by 2026, with 60% of this reduction applied in 2021. Mackerel remains Irelands most important fishery with a quota for 2021 of 60,849 tonnes valued at approximately €80m and it underpins the important Irish pelagic fish processing industry in the North West. Ireland is the largest Mackerel quota holder in the EU.

Minister Mc McConalogue made clear that; “I am calling on EU Commissioner Sinkevičius to reject completely this unilateral action by Norway to claim a much higher share of the mackerel stock. I am writing to him immediately to ask him to respond without delay to this provocative and irresponsible action. I will ask him to outline what actions the European Commission will take to protect the important EU mackerel fleets and mackerel processing industry. It is vital that the EU Commissioner takes urgent steps to counteract this irresponsible action by Norway. Norway must understand that responsible partners do not get rewarded for such unacceptable action.”

Minister Mc McConalogue added, “Our mackerel fishermen have already taken unacceptable cuts to their share of the mackerel stock under the EU/UK TCA. I am working with them to pursue all avenues to deliver a more equitable burden sharing within the EU. I am very concerned that this action by Norway will add further uncertainty to the mackerel industry already trying to adjust to reduce quotas after Brexit.”

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#Fishing - The European Union, Norway and the Faroe Islands have agreed to a 20% reduction in mackerel quotas in the North East Atlantic for 2019.

The news for Ireland’s single most valuable fishery was the outcome of international fisheries negotiations which concluded in Bergen, Norway yesterday (Thursday 29 November).

Marine Minister Michael Creed — who described the negotiations, which also took place in Clonakilty earlier this month, as “challenging” — added: “The reductions reflect the available scientific advice that the abundance of this stock has declined. This level of reduction is seen by all parties as essential to ensure that the stock is fished sustainably.”

The minister also confirmed that agreement was reached on a two-year extension of the sharing arrangement between the three main parties. “This provides a welcome degree of stability for this hugely important fishery. Irish fishermen will now have a quota worth over €55m directly to our catching sector for 2019,” he said.

“While the quota for Ireland is less than that of recent years, those quotas were unusually high by historical standards. The quota of 55,000 tonnes achieved today is in line with our historical average quota.

“We must continue to be cautious with this crucially important stock. As always, industry representatives, in particular Sean O’Donoghue of the Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation, were extremely helpful to the Irish negotiating team.”

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