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A seafood industry leader has expressed anger at the “complete inaction” by Ireland’s marine minister, Charlie McConalogue, to secure a quota for bluefin tuna.

Irish South and West Fish Producers’ Organisation (IS&WFPO) chief executive Patrick Murphy, who is standing as a candidate in the European Parliament elections, said that it was “obvious that McConalogue had no interest in living up to a promise he made to fight for a bluefin tuna quota”.

He made his comments as applications opened earlier this month for experienced Irish sea angling skippers to participate in a catch-and-release Atlantic bluefin tuna programme as part of a collaborative scientific survey.

The initiative targets Atlantic bluefin tuna – the world’s largest tuna species - to collect information on their sizes, and where and when they occur in Irish waters.

The programme has recorded changes in the size of the fish encountered - providing useful and positive data, according to State agency Inland Fisheries Ireland (IFI ) which runs it.

IFI said last year’s programme recorded two recaptures of tagged Atlantic bluefin tuna for the first time, while a total of 381 bluefin were tagged.

It said a total of 239 bluefin tuna angling trips were undertaken, and an average of 4.5 bluefin were caught per trip in the most successful week.

Since the data collection programme on Atlantic bluefin tuna began in Irish waters in 2019, almost 1,900 of the largest tuna in the world have been successfully tagged and released, IFI says.

Recreational angling for Atlantic bluefin tuna is technically prohibited in Ireland, and commercial fishing vessels have no quota for bluefin tuna -even though skippers have said they have seen large shoals of the fish migrating up the Irish coast in recent years.

The tuna shoals have attracted Japanese and Korean vessels to the Irish coast outside the 200-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ), while Croatia, Cyprus, France, Greece, Italy, Malta, Portugal, and Spain are among EU member states which have quotas.

Britain was also awarded a quota of 63 tonnes of bluefin tuna for 2023-2025. The EU share of global bluefin quota has increased in recent years.

Over a year ago, before the December 2022 EU “agrifish” council, McConalogue said Ireland had made it clear to EU member states and the European Commission at EU internal meetings that Ireland considered it had a case for an allocation of part of the increase in the bluefin tuna quota.

“Given the prevalence of bluefin tuna in Ireland's EEZ, this is a request that we wish to be considered at council,” he said then, and stated that he would be making a formal statement to that effect at the December 2022 “agrifish” council.

There is still no quota for Irish commercial vessels, and Murphy said that the Irish government had “no interest in fighting for a bluefin tuna quota”.

He said Irish officials had “indicated to us whenever we raised the issue that Europe would only be looking for something else in return”.

“The Government doesn’t want to take advantage of an opportunity which would sustain so many coastal communities,” Murphy said.

“If I am elected to Brussels, I will be establishing rights for both Irish fishermen and farmers,” he said.

The Department of Marine said that Minister McConalogue had “made clear to EU member states and the European Commission that there is a case for an allocation of the EU’s bluefin tuna quota to be made available to Ireland” and said this case “is supported by the data collected in the catch-tag-release science-based fishery for authorised recreational angling vessels”.

“The minister has requested the opening of discussions at EU level to progress Ireland’s case and has made formal statements on the matter at the Fisheries Councils in December 2022 and 2023,” the department said, but “opening up this issue is difficult as other member states are resistant to any discussion on amending relative stability for this stock”.

“Any change to relative stability would involve a loss for some other member states and therefore poses particular challenges in a qualified majority voting context,” it said, but the minister “will continue to raise this matter at every available opportunity”.

Published in Fishing

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

Published in Fishing

Irish Minister for the Marine, Charlie McConalogue T.D. today (6th April) met with his French counterpart, Annick Girardin, the French Minister of the Sea, in Paris. The primary focus of the meeting was to discuss Minister McConalogue’s case to provide greater protection to the inshore fishing waters around Ireland under the Common Fisheries Policy.

The background to the meeting is that the European Commission has proposed to roll over the existing access arrangements for Member States' access to Coastal Waters for a further 10 years. At present, a number of Member States have historic rights to fish in our 6 - 12 mile zone.

Commenting on the meeting, the Minister said “The meeting today was constructive and I made my case requesting the French Presidency to give further consideration to the Irish position on access to our coastal waters. We had a detailed engagement on the issues and I am satisfied that the French Presidency has a better understanding of the Irish case following the meeting. The French Minister, Minister Girardin, undertook to consider how the French Presidency would proceed taking account of the views of other relevant Member States.

Discussions on an EU Fisheries Council position are expected to be concluded in the coming weeks. The European Parliament is also setting out its position. The agreement of the Council, Parliament and Commission on access arrangements is expected to be finalised before the summer.

Published in Fishing

Marine Minister Charlie McConalogue met with representatives of the Irish fishing industry this afternoon (Wednesday 23 February) to brief them on a number of important policy developments.

Describing the meeting as “very productive”, the minister said: “This is an important year for a sector that is critical to sustaining vibrant coastal and rural communities.

“I was pleased to be able to brief [industry representatives] on the work being done in my department to advance the interests of the sector, and to engage directly with them on their priorities for 2022.”

The implementation of the Seafood Sector Taskforce Report and EU issues, including the upcoming negotiations on mackerel and blue whiting sharing arrangements and management involving the EU, Norway, UK and Faroe Islands, all featured in today’s discussions.

New challenges facing the industry to deliver on sustainability and climate change targets were also discussed.

Referring to the work of the Seafood Task Force, Minister McConalogue said: “We are making significant progress in rolling out the recommendations of the Sea Food Task Force which reported to me in October. That report proposed a number of measures to address the challenges posed by Brexit.

“I have already received Government approval for a number of specific schemes recommended by the task force, and I look forward to working closely with the industry in the implementation of its remaining recommendations.”

The minister also led a discussion on the broader policy challenges facing the sector, including the review of the Common Fisheries Policy due to take place at EU level shortly.

Earlier this month he announced the establishment of a CFP review group, comprising a broad range of stakeholders, to prepare Ireland’s negotiating position for the review due to take place later this year.

He also advised the meeting that he has secured Government approval to seek an extension to Ireland’s six- and 12-mile zones.

“Later this year the arrangements governing the six- and 12-mile restricted access protection zones are due for review at EU level. I believe that there is a strong case to be made to increase the protections for Ireland’s fishing fleets in these waters, particularly against the background of Brexit,” he said.

“With this in mind, yesterday I secured Government approval to seek an extension of the zones around Ireland to 12 and 20 miles respectively. I will now engage with Commissioner Sinkevicius, fellow fishery ministers and MEPs to seek to advance Ireland’s case on this matter.”

Concluding, the minister said that he looked forward to working closely with the sector on all of these issues through the course of the year.

Industry bodies represented at today’s briefing were the Irish South & East Fish Producers Organisation, Irish Fish Producer Organisation, Irish South & West Fish Producers Organisation, Killybegs Fisherman’s Organisation, Irish Islands Marine Resources Organisation, Irish Fish Processors & Exporters Association, National Inshore Fisheries Forum and various cooperatives.

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A 25 million euro deepwater development of the Connemara fishing port of Ros-a-Mhíl is due to be announced today by Minister for Marine Charlie McConalogue.

Construction of a 200-metre deepwater quay at the State-owned harbour and island ferryport may also position Ros-a-Mhíl as a strategic hub for the floating offshore wind sector with potential for 900 jobs. 

The project will bring the Connemara harbour “closer in line” with the leading fishing ports of Killybegs in Donegal and West Cork’s Castletownbere.

Planning permission has already been secured, and construction is expected to take 28 months to complete.

McConalogue is bringing a memo to Cabinet on the project before meeting the Ros-a-Mhíl community this evening.

Minister for Marine Charlie McConalogueMinister for Marine Charlie McConalogue

The approval is the result of a campaign lasting over 20 years, spearheaded by the Aran and Connemara fishing industry and supported by Fianna Fáil Galway West TD Éamon Ó Cuív.

Ó Cuív said he hoped it would regenerate employment in fish processing, which has suffered due to lack of infrastructure for larger vessels.

Just under 90 per cent of all fish landed into Ireland came through the State’s fishery harbours in 2020, and Ros-a-Mhíl’s landings were primarily from Irish vessels and valued at €7 million in that same year.

The deep-water quay for the harbour – which is also a ferry port for the three Aran islands – will add 200 metres of quayside and provide greater depth to accommodate larger fishing vessels 

Ó Cuív predicted it would also be a “game changer” for supporting offshore renewable energy in the west, which he described as “the ultimate oil well”. 

A report commissioned by State agency Údaras na Gaeltachta noted that the Connemara harbour was “unique among ports on the Irish west coast in having existing permission for infrastructure ... to support the floating offshore wind project pipeline”.

The report by Dublin Offshore Consultants was presented to McConalogue in Ros-a-Mhil last October, 

An additional four hectares of State-owned land with “laydown/development potential” will be added to the harbour centre as part of the works.

Údaras na Gaeltachta owns an additional 30 acres adjoining this four hectares which will be key to developing an offshore renewable energy hub. 

Early signs of market intent for offshore wind in the region have been demonstrated by Green Investment Group’s recent acquisition of the 400MW Sceirde Rocks offshore wind farm off the Connemara coast.

The Marine Renewables Industry Association has said that new port capacity would be required in the west, in addition to Galway and Shannon Foynes, and it has identified Ros-a- Mhíl as “the obvious candidate”.

Procurement for the detailed design of the quay at Ros-a-Mhíl will be followed by a tender for construction later in the year, and the projected €25 million cost excludes VAT.

McConalogue has said the exact costing will only be clear when detailed design work is complete and an open tendering competition has taken place.

The project will be funded under the fishery harbour centres and coastal infrastructure development programme.

Published in Irish Harbours

The Minister for the Marine, Charlie McConalogue T.D., today welcomed the agreement between the EU and the UK on Total Allowable Catches (TACs) for shared stocks in 2022. This agreement covers all our whitefish stocks including Haddock, Cod, Whiting, Monkfish, Prawns, Sole and Plaice and other stocks including Horse Mackerel and Herring.

The Minister said: “Negotiations with the UK on the fishing quotas began in early November and have proven very difficult, particularly in relation to stocks in the Celtic Sea. The negotiations commenced on the basis of the scientific advice from the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES) but there were significant differences between the parties on how the scientific advice should be applied in mixed fisheries. Throughout this process, I worked closely with Commissioner Sinkevičius to protect Ireland’s key interests in these negotiations. I thank the Commissioner and his negotiating team for their hard work over the last number of weeks.”

The Minister for the Marine, Charlie McConalogue T.DThe Minister for the Marine, Charlie McConalogue T.D

The Minister added that: “I had sought that the quotas should be set following the scientific advice and had pressed this point in relation to certain key stocks where the UK took a different position. However, taking account of the need for fishers to have certainty for the coming year, and in the context of what were very difficult and prolonged negotiations and widely diverging views on some stocks, I am satisfied that the Commissioner delivered a balanced overall agreement. Like all agreements, it involved compromises. This agreement will support the sustainable management of our shared stocks and enable fishermen to plan their activities for the year ahead. The agreement sets sustainable quotas for the stocks of interest to Ireland and by-catch only quotas for vulnerable stocks in mixed fisheries.”

Preliminary Analysis of 2022 TACs for EU stocks shared with UK

The quotas above have not been formally adopted by the Commission yet and are based on Department’s analysis only of IE’s quota for 2022 for stocks shared with the UK.  Hague Preferences have been included for the relevant stocks – Hague Preferences must be agreed and adopted by Council.  The table above only includes the stocks shared with the UK only.The quotas above have not been formally adopted by the Commission yet and are based on the Department of the Marine's analysis only of IE’s quota for 2022 for stocks shared with the UK. Hague Preferences have been included for the relevant stocks – Hague Preferences must be agreed and adopted by Council. The table above only includes the stocks shared with the UK only.

The Minister added: “Having this agreement in place before the end of the year will provide much needed stability and certainty for the fishing industry. My priority now is to ensure that the Hague Preferences, which increase Ireland’s quotas for our traditional stocks such as Cod, Whiting, Sole and Plaice, when the TAC is set at a low level, are applied to the relevant stocks in the final EU Regulation that gives effect to this agreement. The EU/UK Agreement determines the overall level of the EU share for the coming year and there is then a further internal EU step required to determine the detailed national quotas for each stock. That work is under way but will take more time.”

The Presidency of the EU Council has clarified that the formal regulation on fishing opportunities for 2022 – including the amendment containing the final quotas – will be finalised by the Council’s legal and linguistic experts, following which it will be formally adopted by the Council and published in the Official Journal. The provisions will apply retroactively as of 1st January 2022.

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The Minister for the Marine will definitely "seek to address the imbalance in the quota transfers under the Trade & Cooperation Agreement between the European Union and United Kingdom."

So says Fianna Fail's MEP, Billy Kelleher, in a statement from Brussels saying he had received this confirmation from Minister Charlie McConalogue.

"It may also be necessary for the Minister to seek a separate mechanism, independent of the CFP review, to deal with the issue of burden-sharing due to opposition from some Member States. A separate, but important point is also the need for the fishing communities in Ireland to receive substantial financial support as part of the Brexit Adjustment Reserve. Ireland will receive well over €1 billion; some of this money must be used to support our fishing industry. While Ireland has 22% of EU seas, we only have 3% of total catch. As an island nation, it needs to be reflected by the EU authorities," said MEP Kelleher.

However, the Chief Executive of the Killybegs Fishermen's Organisation, Sean O'Donoghue, while welcoming a €10m EU aid deal for the Irish fleet, which had been recommended by the Task Force set up by the Minister says the aid has limitations.

He outlined why to Tom MacSweeney on the Maritime Ireland radio show. Listen in below: 

Published in Fishing

The Minister for Marine, Charlie McConalogue TD, has undertaken a series of visits to some of Ireland’s main fishing ports. The Minister has met with fishers, processors fishing organisations and other stakeholders, as he visited Howth, Kilmore Quay, Dunmore East and Killybegs earlier this month. The visits will continue with a trip to Union Hall and Castletownbere later this week, with further visits to fishing ports planned.

In Howth, the Minister visited the Harbour Centre and met the Harbour Master and lead officials on works to the harbour. In May the Minister announced €8.3m in funding for work to Howth and he visited ongoing infrastructure work. The Minister met with fishers on the Pier to discuss fishing matters and the group included fishing representatives from ISEPO, FLAGs NIFF and NIFA & NIFO. He also met with local businesses including Kish Fish and processors including OceanPath.

In Kilmore Quay, the Minister visited the Harbour Centre and met the Harbour Master and lead officials on works to the harbour. In May the Minister announced over €200k in funding for work to Kilmore Quay. The Minister also met with fishers on the Pier, with the group including fishing representatives from ISEPO, NIFF and NIFA & NIFO.

In Dunmore East, the Minister visited the Harbour Centre and met the Harbour Master and lead officials on works to the harbour. In May the Minister announced over € 2.4 m in funding for work at Dunmore East. The Minister also met with fishers on the Pier, with the group including fishing representatives on the Pier to discuss fishing matters and the group included fishing representatives from ISEPO, NIFF and NIFA & NIFO.

In Killybegs, The Minister visited the Harbour Centre and met the Harbour Master, lead officials on works to the harbour and officials from the Sea Fisheries Protection Authority. In May the Minister announced almost €9m in funding for work to Killybegs Harbour including €6.5m for phase two of the Smooth Point Pier Inspection which he visited on his tour of Killybegs. The Minister also met with the IFPEA, the KFO and inshore fishers including NIFA and NIFO representatives and boarded a vessel and visited a processing factory.

Commenting on the visits, Minister McConalogue said: "I have had constructive meetings with fishers and fisher representatives during my visits and I thank everyone for meeting me and for discussing important matters to their community. It was great to also take an opportunity to view the ongoing infrastructure projects at all four harbours and to see progress on these projects."

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Marine Minister Charlie McConalogue T.D. has welcomed the decision of the Court of Appeal to temporarily reinstate the Policy Directive excluding large vessels from trawling in inshore waters within six miles of the coast. This will apply at least until the full hearing of the case by the Court of Appeal in late June.

After hearing the motion on Friday 19th March last, the Court was persuaded that the balance of justice leaned in favour of the State at this time and granted a stay on the order of the High Court up until the hearing of the substantive appeal in June, at which time the matter of the stay will be reconsidered by the Court.

Minister McConalogue commented today “I am pleased to hear that the Court of Appeal has allowed for the reinstatement of the Policy Directive. This decision will mean that vessels over 18 metres in length are prohibited from trawling inside our 6 miles zone, at least until late June, except for a restricted sprat fishery, which would usually not occur during the late spring/summer period. The stay has only been granted up until the June hearing.”

The Policy Directive was introduced in March 2019, following the decision of the then Minister for Agriculture, Food and Marine that from 1 January 2020 all trawling by large vessels, over 18 metres in length overall, in coastal waters inside Ireland’s 6 mile zone was to cease, other than for a sprat fishery which was to be phased out during 2020 and 2021.

A Judicial Review was taken by two applicant fishermen who successfully challenged the validity of the Policy Directive. On 6th October 2020, the High Court made an order in favour of the applicants and the Policy Directive was declared void/or of no legal effect. A stay on the order was refused by the High Court on 10th December last. The Court of Appeal has now reinstated the Policy Directive at least until the full hearing of the appeal. The substantive hearing by the Court of Appeal is due to take place on the 22nd and 23rd June.

Published in Fishing