Leading Journal of the Irish & UK Fishing Industries

As fishing representatives and ministers for around Europe travel to Brussels for this year’s quota talks, the Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation (KFO) has expressed concern ahead of the annual meeting of the Council of Fisheries Ministers.

The KFO believes an industry already in a state of heightened anxiety regarding Brexit could now face further serious challenges and potential hardship particularly with the Commission’s cod and whiting proposals in the Celtic Sea. The negotiations to set Total Allowable Catches (TACs) and quotas for 2020 take place in Brussels this coming Monday and Tuesday (December 16 and 17).

Seán O’Donoghue, CEO of the KFO said: “Brexit will now become a reality with the resounding Tory victory in last Thursday’s UK election. Along with our European colleagues, we have worked night and day for the last three and a half years to mitigate against the seismic ramifications on our €21billion industry, of this defining moment in modern political history.

“It is imperative that might and main are moved to protect the Irish seafood sector in the future trade negotiations which last year alone, was valued at €1.25billion employing more than 14,300 people predominantly in rural, coastal locations.

“Michel Barnier and Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan will play key roles with our Government to negotiate the retention of the close linkage between fisheries and the wider trade relationship in order to maintain existing access to fishing waters and existing resource allocations. This linkage absolutely critical.

“However, we must also keep our eye on the ball in the short-term and the Commission’s remedial measures, published as part of its TACs and quotas proposals 2020 for cod and whiting in the Celtic Sea are ‘unworkable’. These would have dire impacts on a whole range of fisheries in the area with the early closure of these fisheries, should these measures be adopted in their present form.

“Fishermen cannot countenance these unworkable measures in the Celtic Sea that would lead to early closures of a vast array of sustainable fisheries in the area with the loss of jobs as well as putting the viability of the demersal fleet in jeopardy.

“The Commission’s proposals also contain some significant reductions in a number of key Irish stock such as the 15% reduction in nephrops, 30% reduction in monkfish and 40% reduction in pollack. I question the justification for these reductions both on a scientific basis particularly for monkfish and pollack and also most importantly that the Commission’s proposals take no account of the socio-economic obligations enshrined in the CFP”.

Mr O’Donoghue said, “If the socio-economic obligations had been taken into account, the proposed cuts in some of our key stocks would almost be eliminated or significantly reduced. I fully expect Minister Creed to take account of these missing factors from the Commission’s proposals during the Council next week.”

There are some stocks not yet included in the Commission’s proposals such as mackerel and blue whiting. These have now been agreed at Coastal States level with mackerel up 41% and blue whiting up 2%.

“In recent years, errors in the scientific advice has also led to me publicly expressing concern that ICES does not have a fit-for-purpose quality assurance system in place. In this regard, it is imperative that ICES expediates the putting in place a quality assurance system across its entire process to enable all stakeholders have confidence in its advice,” highlighted Mr O’Donoghue.

The KFO expects, as in previous years, after the usual battles that ‘The Hague Preferences’ – which see Ireland and the UK getting elevated quotas for a number of key species when reductions are proposed – will be delivered.

The KFO will be meeting Minister Creed and his advisers in Brussels ahead of the talks beginning and subsequently, on a regular basis during the Fisheries Council negotiations and say they will support his endeavours to deliver the best deal possible in terms of sustainable and economically-viable fishing opportunities for Ireland for 2020.

Ahead of the negotiations, Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Michael Creed T.D stated, “The CFP sets out the objective of settings Total Allowable Catches (TACs) and quotas to deliver sustainable fisheries. This means setting TACs and quotas at levels that ensure long term sustainability, known as Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY).

“At EU level we are committed to apply this level of sustainable management for all stocks by 2020. We are now committed to taking the necessary decisions, including applying reductions where necessary, to rebuild fish stocks. Making prudent decisions now will be of benefit to these stocks – and the fishing industry which depends upon them.”

The Minister went on to say, “While there are many challenges ahead, we must also recognise that significant progress has already been made. For the 74 stocks of interest to Ireland, 35 are now fished at MSY.  This figure has been improving, year on year, since 2013.”

Referring to the proposed cuts to Celtic Sea Cod and Whiting, the Minister said “We fully share the concerns about the current state of these stocks.  We are supportive of additional measures to improve selectivity and reduce the quantities of cod and whiting caught in mixed fisheries in order to rebuild these stocks.

“At these negotiations, my goal will be to work constructively with the Commission and other Member States to find comprehensive solutions which will protect vulnerable stocks while allowing sustainable fishing of other stocks to continue.”

The Minister also said, “This year has seen the full implementation of the landing obligation or ‘discards ban’, bringing an end to the dumping of perfectly good fish at sea. Implementing the landing obligation is not without its difficulties, but we will continue to work with industry and our experts in BIM and the Marine Institute to make it work.”

As part of the open consultation process on the Commission’s proposal, the Minister met with fishing industry representatives and environmental NGOs on November 25 to discuss their positions on various aspects of the proposal. The Minister will meet all Stakeholders again this evening (December 15) in Brussels ahead of the Council.

Minister Creed concluded by stating, “I would like to take this opportunity to thank all stakeholders for their efforts to ensure the long-term sustainability of fishing in Ireland and throughout the EU. In particular, I would like to recognise the contribution of the men and women of the fishing industry, who are on the front line of these changes. Without their hard work and dedication, none of this progress would have been possible.”

Meanwhile, fishermen in Shetland have reacted strongly following the agreement on cod reached by the EU and Norway last Friday (December 13) and the announcement of a 50% quota cut for North Sea cod next year.

The agreement reached on Friday between the European Commission and Norwegian negotiators will be formally ratified at the European Council meeting this week.

“This outcome illustrates exactly why every fishing industry in Europe wants to be shot of the Common Fishing Policy,” said Simon Collins of the Shetland Fishermen’s Association.

“Together with industry representatives from all around the North Sea, including Norway, and working closely with the Scottish government, we had put together a responsible and credible package of measures on cod that would have fully met sustainability objectives as well as the legal constraints bearing on the EU.

“The EU’s decision to go instead with a simplistic read-out of a single line from a computer model is staggeringly irresponsible. Fisheries management should be a grown-up discussion around a complex ecosystem, not an infantile read-out from computer modelling that all sides know is desperately flawed.”

While the UK is expected to leave the CFP on 31st January 2020, the passage of the Withdrawal Agreement through parliament will effectively keep the UK bound to quotas agreed at the coming week’s Council meeting until the end of next year.

“For Shetland’s fishing fleet, leaving the CFP is more urgent now than ever,” added Mr Collins.

“Fish stocks in our waters – including cod – are heading the right way, and our coastal and island communities deserve a responsible management regime. It’s about time we got one.”