Disappointment, confusion and fear. These are the three words on the minds of those in the Irish South and West Fish Producers’ Organisation (IS&WFPO) following this year’s Council of Ministers meeting in Brussels earlier this week. Ireland, they highlight, with the majority of Europe’s accessible fishing grounds due to the geological position of our Island nation on the Continental Shelf, still remains a small recipient in the European context when it comes to the share out of this valuable renewable resource.
According to the south west fishing organisation, “The efforts by members of the IS&WFPO in the months and weeks leading up to this very important and critical December Meeting of the EU Council of Fisheries Ministers seemed to dim like a candle slowly burning out and all that was left hanging in the air was a wisp of smoke that disappeared right in front of our eyes.”
In terms of the ‘unworkable’ cod and whiting proposals that caused so much trouble going into the Council, they state, “Fishing trials carried out, witnessed and recorded by on-board BIM gear technologists, using newly designed fishing nets, in Irish South and West boats, proved that massive improvements in reducing the numbers of Cod and Whiting in catches is not just possible but is guaranteed.
“After our initial jubilation in seeing Industry’s joint Submissions and Consultations with the Minister’s negotiating team resulting in these measures being included in the dying moments of the negotiations our mood quickly turned, like milk left out in the sun, to a sour taste in our mouths as the potential increase of 300% in recovered and healthy Haddock stocks never materialised while we were granted a miserable spirit crushing 30%.
“This kick in the teeth was made worse by the fact that our scientists advised seeking a 100% increase.”
Adding to this, say the IS&WFPO, Hake stocks where there was only a 5% reduction in size since 2019 were slashed by 21% once again – contrary to the advice to use the upper level of the Scientific Advice which would have resulted in no cuts.
Whiting, a traditionally strong fishery for Irish vessels, saw cuts of various sizes in all areas. A total cut combined would need a 34% increase next year to return our catches to 2019 levels.
Nephrops, commonly known as Dublin Bay prawns, and representing Ireland’s second most important fishery saw an overall slashing for the second year in a row of 15%.
Although there’s a slight increase in Monk in Area 7, this was not only cancelled out by the massive cut of 30% in Area 6 but overall, we are down 187 tonnes which is a loss of 5.4%, they state. Cod, the perennial problem child, sees an overall cut of 42.2% on 2019’s quota.
The only Stock that has seen an increase for the demersal sector is Haddock, up 11.7% in all areas combined despite the announced 30% increase in Celtic Sea. Megrims received a slight increase of 3.5%, highlights the IS&WFPO.
This year’s council has completely upended the percentage increases Irish demersal fishermen gained last year by stripping them away this year quoting a mixed stock advice focus as the reason, they say. With the unknown consequences from the fallout from Brexit these massive cuts to the earnings of Irish White-Fish fishermen could not come at a worse time, highlights the south west fishing body.
“The massive decreases in our most important Fishery of Nephrops (Dublin bay prawns) for the second consecutive year will force freezer vessels to diversify into other fisheries but as all demersal stocks we catch have been cut, the ones in which we could have been granted an increase had we followed scientific advice to reduce the size of the cuts to key stocks in 2020 or been given adequate (and scientifically available) increases to improved stocks spells disaster for many Irish fishermen, their crews and the coastal communities that desperately depend on them.
“We have consistently proposed other measures that would improve the sustainability for this fishery but it falls on deaf ears.”
There is also confusion regarding Albacore Tuna, says the IS&WFPO, which saw a 1% increase rather than the recommended 20% increase advocated by The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna (ICCAT).
“Pelagic fisheries for the RSW segment see increases this year in Mackerel up 41%, but also see devastation through the loss of Ireland’s Celtic Sea Herring, reduced to just a scientific quota of only a few hundred tonnes”, highlights the IS&WFPO. This, they say, will have disastrous affects on Polyvalent Pelagic Vessels.
“Scad (Horse Mackerel) was also slashed by 41% despite previously suggested alternative measures to help the sustainability of the fishery that sadly, were not introduced.”
The Industry, states the IS&WFPO, accepts reductions in quotas are required to protect sustainable stocks, but fear oftentimes this is done without taking into account the socio-economic importance of “getting it right.”
“We fear those shouting for cuts do not properly understand that fish of various sizes fluctuate from year to year and this will influence necessary changes that have to happen year to year so to properly manage the entire stock.
“Fishermen are the first to acknowledge that cuts as harsh as they are, are, unfortunately, necessary but we feel the cuts made to TAC’s and Quotas for different stocks must be done in a properly evaluated manner over a period of time by taking into our decision making process the fact that fishermen risk their lives at sea every day and should be entitled to catch enough fish to pay their bills and also survive in the fishing Industry.
“In recent times our demersal fleet has been decimated by our Governments introduction of Decommissioning Scheme after Scheme and this seems to be disproportionately directed at and affecting Whitefish vessels.
“With Brexit and the potential loss of access to UK fishing ground, we in the South West are already gravely concerned with the ever increasing number of our fellow EU Members’ Vessels fishing off our shores and the requested but as yet unknown effect this increased effort is having on our Biologically Sensitive Area that wraps around our coastline all the way through the Celtic Sea to west of Galway.
“The fear is that now, we will have no choice but to revisit this brutal and final resolution of decommissioning to again make way for others with greater quotas in Irelands EEZ.
“As presented by our Minister Michael Creed to our delegation, we have as a country received an overall gain of earnings for our fishing fleet from €271m in 2019 to €275 for 2020, a welcome increase of €4m.
“Unfortunately, however, the vast majority, approaching 99% of Ireland’s fishing fleet will not benefit by one Euro from this increase but will in fact be down €14 million on last year’s figures. This will undoubtedly have devastating effects on the majority of our fishermen, their crews, families and the coastal communities that so depend on them.
“A tired delegation of Industry met with Minister Michael Creed and his team at 6.30 am on Wednesday morning to be given the final details of the December Council negotiations.
“The Irish South and West fish Producers Organisation acknowledge the work carried out by Minister Michael Creed and his officials at this year’s meeting: we know it never is an easy task.
“Our membership are fully aware of the hard work we will have to undertake and the individual responsibility on all of us in protecting the sustainability of fish stocks in our waters.
“By taking hard decisions in introducing new technical measures, following best scientific advice and reducing the unwanted catches of undersized fish, we would hope the person reading this will come to realise that our fishermen have an enormous task to balance their catches ensuring the species they are allowed to catch are also retained in these new larger meshed fishing nets so they can earn a viable living that supports the families of coastal communities that are so dependent on them.
“With this said, the increases Minister Michael Creed announced are welcome and the Chairman, Damien Turner and I, Patrick Murphy as CEO of the Irish South and West continue to work with our hard working staff, our Industry colleagues, and the Minister’s Department Officials, on behalf of our Membership and our Industry to help secure a viable future for our vessels.”